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Officials, residents discuss water quality of Cherry Lake

On Tuesday, March 29, the Board of County Commissioners of Madison County, Cherry Lake residents and representatives with the Suwanee River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Fish and Game Commission gathered at the Cherry Lake 4-H Camp meeting hall to discuss the water quality of Cherry Lake. The last meeting was held over a year ago on December 2, 2014. Since then, there have been many updates, as representatives with the Florida DEP have taken several steps to monitor the health of the lake.

In the last meeting, residents of Cherry Lake expressed concerns about the decrease of the lake's water level and water quality.

Representatives with Florida DEP took to the lake last summer to address these concerns and took samples at five sites around the lake in May, July and September of 2015, including the public beach, center of the lake, campground, American Legion area and the Southeast portion of the lake. Sampling was done in order to assess potential impacts from sewage treatment and disposal systems and collect additional water quality data to better assess the nutrient levels in Cherry Lake. Sampling sites were reduced in September, as the results collected kept coming back the same.

Russell Simpson and Tom Kallemeyn of the Jacksonville branch of the Florida DEP presented a brief slideshow that went over the findings of the samples.

Several sources were found in the samples, including fecal coliform (indicator bacteria found in warm blooded animals), E-coli (indicator bacteria found in warm blooded animals), HF183 (a DNA marker that indicates presence of human fecal contaminants), surculose (artificial sugar substitute) and acetaminophen (a drug used as an indicator of potential human waste).

Samples were collected on May 19, July 8 and September 9 of 2015. During each sampling session, there were low detections for all of the sample sources.

Based on these samples, Florida DEP determined that there was no smoking gun detected, as no sewage material was found within the lake. The water quality standards have met Florida DEP's protocol but Kallemeyn expressed that these findings do not rule out failing septic systems. “The good news is that we don't have any major issues,” said Kallemeyn.

Cherry Lake is a very acidic, clear lake and according to the data measured, it has a 6.9 chlorophyl level, compared to Florida DEP's standard of 6.

As a result of the monitoring, Florida DEP found that there is an excessive amount of chlorophyl and Cherry Lake meets the requirements for additional monitoring. Additional monitoring will need to be done in order to verify whether or not the lake is impaired.

Kallemeyn determined that he is unsure if samples will be collected this year but informed the audience that collection should begin in 2017. However, Kallemeyn encouraged high community involvement in order to assess a plan.

If the community decides to take the health of Cherry Lake into their own hands, the county will pair up with Lakewatch to learn how to collect samples from the lake. Those who collect samples can freeze the samples in their freezers until Lakewatch officials come to test the findings.

“That might be something the community will want to do,” said Commissioner Ronnie Moore.

After additional data is collected, Florida DEP will work with the community and other officials to develop and implement a restoration plan. As part of this restoration plan, a daily low will be established, which determines how many nutrients Cherry Lake can handle before it is considered impaired.

When the presentation was finished, the audience was encouraged to ask questions or raise any concerns regarding Cherry Lake.

Members of the audience asked if any other factors have been considered when determining what could be affecting the lake, including the wildlife that recently have flocked to the lake, such as ducks and seagulls.

“This is why we like to hear from the community,” said Kallemeyn. “We find things we wouldn't even think about.”

One Cherry Lake resident commented that the lake could be losing water due to the drainage ditch that was dug many years ago in order to power a grist mill. The resident also added that there is a beaver dam that could be responsible for the water loss as well. However, because the beavers are a natural inhabitant, removal of these animals will need to be determined by the Florida DEP; the department has protocol for nuisance wildlife trapping.

Some Cherry Lake residents asked if the Florida DEP has considered monitoring the lake level in the study. Kallemeyn assured the residents that the lake level will be determined during the daily low establishment plan.

After a resident raised a concern about an evasive plant species in Cherry Lake called hydrilla, Daniel Dorosheff from the Florida Fish and Game Commission came forward. He discussed many options for using biological controls in order to reduce the hydrilla's numbers. Dorosheff stated that herbicides and different species of animals such as the grass carp could be introduced to the lake. “We would much rather [add animals to the environment] rather than use herbicides,” said Dorosheff.

The grass carp could be purchased by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). Residents informed Dorosheff that the carp was last stocked by the FWC.

Another issue that was brought up was the erosion of the old ditch. The Suwannee Water River Management District and the county have been monitoring  the erosion levels periodically but it hasn't changed at all since last year. “If there is no change, we shouldn't be alarmed,” said Chairman Rick Davis. “If we have a lot of rainfall and erosion takes place, then we should be concerned.”

Other concerns that were raised about Cherry Lake were illegal dumping issues and noise complaints.

The county commissioners informed the audience that the issues at hand could be addressed at future county commission meetings.

Judging by the turnout of the meeting, it is clear that Cherry Lake is in good hands, as both residents and county commissioners are displaying immense concern for the beloved lake.

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