A few feet down the dirt road leading to the Thurston House in Maitland, the sound of running water greets you at the beginning of a well-worn path through the trees toward Lake Eulalia.
The natural sound of a babbling brook, water rolling over rocks, is a distinctly unnatural noise to be coming from a sedentary lake, but one that’s been carefully handcrafted here – the product of an innovative attempt to clean it.
An undergrounded water pump pushes 8 to 10 gallons a minute out of Lake Eulalia uphill, out over a bubbling rock fountain and into a man-made koi pond – minus the fish.
In a constant flow, the water falls from the rocks through the pond planted with indigenous underwater vegetation until gravity carries it downstream, through another pipe and into another pond with a different variety of nutrient-removing plants skimming its surface. Under a walkway and into one more pond, the lake water travels until it’s piped back into the waterbody below, hopefully cleaner than when it came out.
“It’s a system we’re really excited about, and we don’t think anyone else has tried,” Maitland Lakes Management Director Marissa Williams said.
Installed in October in the previously wildly overgrown city-owned land bordering Lake Eulalia and the Thurston House property, this man-made system comprised of naturally filtrating elements, Williams said, was the city’s innovative way of tackling the lake’s declining trend of condition.
“It’s not that the lake was at a critical level, it’s that it had the most declining trend … this is our way of trying to arrest that degradation,” Williams said.
Since securing lake-project-specific funding through stormwater fees in 2008, Williams said the city has been able to be proactive with its lake maintenance projects and up-keep. Since 2007, the city has installed three underground water treatment baffle boxes, with another one set to be installed this year. These inline boxes remove debris and sediment from stormwater that flows into the city’s lakes.
Stormwater, she said, is a non-point source, in that its pollution comes from many different sources both natural and man-made. From motor oil and pesticides, to soda cans and basketballs, it all gets washed from the streets and – if not for the baffle boxes – straight into the lakes.
“People don’t realize you throw that Coke can out the window and it ends up straight in a lake,” she said.
With 21 lakes, covering approximately one-third of the total area of the city, maintaining the city’s waterways is a multimillion-dollar a year effort. The Lakes Management Department, Public Works Director Rick Lemke said, operates on an estimated $1 million budget allocated from the stormwater utility fees. Funding beyond that, he said, requires applying and qualifying for grants.
“Even if we had a $10 million budget, we could spend it easy,” Lemke said.
The $100,000 pond project at Lake Eulalia was chosen as an alternative to a more costly idea of using swales to filter water running into the lake.
A project in the works across Lake Avenue from Lake Eulalia at Lake Gem, cleaning up a surplus ditch currently in talks of being transferred from Florida Department of Transportation control to that of the city, is alone estimated to cost $600,000 to $700,000.
As of 2012 surveys, Lake Gem is Maitland’s lake with the highest nutrient level. Taking over the ditch, Lemke said, would give the city the opportunity to seek the funding necessary to address nutrient issues flowing into the lake from the ditch. After twice being tabled, a decision on the control of the ditch is scheduled again for a vote by the Maitland City Council on Monday, Jan. 28.
For more information on Maitland’s lakes, and what the city’s Lakes Management team is doing to keep them clean, visit itsmymaitland.com/pubworks_lakes.aspx
“The city just wants to make sure we’re protected, and not taking over a problem,” Lemke said.
Though the similar water quality solutions to the one at Lake Eulalia have proven effective in other locations such as the Orlando Wetland Park, Williams said it hasn’t been installed long enough to show measured change in levels yet.
Since its installation three months ago, Williams said, the project has shown value in other ways outside of filtering water.
Three lab classes from Rollins College have visited the lake since October to study the filtration process that’s been installed. And she hopes that elementary through high school student trips will soon follow.
“We’re hoping this will turn into an outdoor laboratory … Schools can use it as an outdoor classroom for fieldtrips,” Williams said.
It also serves as walking-distance destination for those staying at the Thurston House beckoned by the calming sound of flowing water to sit at the pond area’s benches and watch the system work.
“We see it as an asset to the whole community, not just the lake,” Williams said.