Danger: Hazards lurking

John LeMoyne, right, weighs a 15-pound bag of trash collected by volunteers at Palm Point on Newnan's Lake as Bruce Bugdal sorts recyclable bottles. The cleanup was part of International Coastal Cleanup, and about 100 volunteers from various organizations pitched in to clean up around the lake.

ALEXANDER COHN/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
About 100 volunteers collected more than 3,100 pounds of trash Saturday from Newnan's Lake and its banks, finding everything from two bowling balls to a computer.
The cleanup illustrates how discarded trash can end up polluting water bodies, said Fritzi Olson, who organized the event as director of Gainesville-based Current Problems/Adopt-A-River. It also suggests there are less visible problems with water quality, she said.
"It's really the contaminants that you cannot see that are the real harmful ones," she said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists Newnan's Lake as impaired due to high levels of nutrients. Under the Clean Water Act, the city of Gainesville and other local entities must identify sources of pollution and develop ways to reduce contamination.
The city is currently focused on plans to clean other impaired water bodies in the area, said Alice Rankeillor, city stormwater engineer. The city will build one project next year that addresses water in Newnan's Lake, she said, before starting in 2008 to develop a comprehensive plan to clean water in two east Gainesville creeks that feed the lake.
Little Hatchett Creek collects runoff from a golf course, a mobile home park and the Gainesville airport industrial area before connecting with the lake. A drainage ditch collects stormwater runoff from homes and other sources before joining Lake Forest Creek, which also pours into the lake.
Historically the lake had been affected most by agriculture, said Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. But the development of land around the creeks has shifted the major pollution source, he said.
"We're finding fertilizer from agriculture being replaced by fertilizer from people's yards," he said.
The lake is popular with anglers and generally pollutants don't create a health risk in fish caught there, Bird said. But as one University of Florida student involved in the cleanup observed, those pollutants can still affect the lake's fish population.
"It's not going to impact the fish directly. It's going to impact what they eat," said Caitlin Hicks, a graduate student in soil and water science.
Newnan's Lake has long had the nickname "the mud hole," said Gary Simpson, who works at the Tackle Box fishing store just off the lake shore. The lake sits on a peat bog that accounts for the muddy look, he said.
Simpson said he doesn't believe pollutants pose a major problem for the fishery. A bigger issue is the fact the lake nearly completely dried up during the drought of the late 1990s and early this decade, he said.
"It's had to more or less start over," he said.
The drought revealed more than 100 American Indian canoes on the lake bottom, which carbon dating found were built up to 5,000 years ago.
It somewhat helped the pollution problem by exposing the contaminated muck, which was baked off by the sun, Bird said.
As the water levels have risen in recent years, the creeks that contribute some of that water are being eyed more closely as a pollution source. Gainesville plans to build a stormwater park to address pollution in Lake Forest Creek, Rankeillor said.
A ditch collects stormwater from east Gainesville neighborhoods before pouring into the creek. Using money from a variety of state and local sources, the city has bought a property south of Duval Elementary and will build a pond there to collect stormwater.
Rankeillor said the park could also include trails, fitness equipment and a playground. Construction is scheduled to start next spring.
On Little Hatchett Creek, the state Department of Environmental Protection has been looking into determining whether Brittany Estates Mobile Home Park has contributed to pollution. The park is permitted to discharge 60,000 gallons of treated wastewater into the creek each day.
The state found violations for chlorine, fecal coliform and ammonia in 2004, but concluded in a report issued last year that wastewater discharges had no significant impact on the creek. Park manager Barry Mathes said past problems have been rectified and he doesn't believe wastewater is a major pollution source.
"I've been at this park 15 years now and I haven't seen any problems with Little Hatchett Creek," he said.
The creek also receives runoff from the city-owned Ironwood Golf Course. The course was named an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and prides itself on minimal use of pesticides and fertilizer, said Bill Iwinski, golf course manager.
"It's not like we just willy-nilly put out chemicals," he said.
Whatever the source, Bird said nutrients are feeding algae growth that can be found in greater amounts than in other area lakes. Plans to promote development in the city's eastern half could exacerbate the problem, he said.
"As east Gainesville develops, this is going to be an emerging thing," he said.
For now, cleaning the more visible pollution is the main focus.
Volunteers from Gainesville Area Rowing, Eastside High School, the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College were among those taking part in Saturday's cleanup.
The event was timed to coincide with The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup event.
A cleanup of Sweetwater Branch in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was also held Saturday, as part of National Public Lands Day.
The Newnan's Lake cleanup netted hundreds of bottles, tires and other trash. Olson said the event can help residents better understand the impact of pollution.
"It really illustrates beautifully how all this junk does end up in the water," she said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com

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