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New Plan and Funding to Remedy Ailing Keystone Lakes Emerges

New Plan and Funding to Remedy Ailing Keystone Lakes Emerges

A new project aims to pipe water from Black Creek near State Road 16 and Penney Farms to Lake Magnolia on Camp Blanding property to halt the slow drain of Lake Geneva and the local economy.  Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) joined Reps. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka) and Travis Cummings (R-Orange Park) near the former shoreline of Lake Geneva on March 24 to reveal an overview of the project. Keystone Heights Mayor Tony Brown and water management district officials flanked the representatives.

“I would drive over the bridge and see the lake get lower and lower and lower, then I would drive past Lake Geneva behind us and see the lake get lower and lower,” Bradley said. “Every time I came out here it would break my heart. “We had a lot of visitors. We had a lot of economic activity around here, and now we don’t, and the reason is simple. The lakes have left us.”

Although not the first plan proposed to solve the Keystone Lake Region’s water level problems, the project remains the first with serious clout behind it. The project calls for constructing a pipeline that would have a 10-million-gallon transmission capacity. Current estimates put a $41 million price tag on the project with completion slated for June 2023. It would be paid for using funds from Amendment 1, which was approved by Florida voters in 2014.

Here’s how the pipeline would work.

When water levels are high along Black Creek – often from storm water flooding – the excess would travel through the proposed pipeline to be built along State Roads 16 and 21 to a spreader field near Lake Magnolia on Camp Blanding property. The water would then travel down Alligator Creek, which would increase the water levels of all bodies of water within the Etonia Chain of Lakes.

The project – dubbed the Black Creek Water Resource Development Project – will capture flow in the creek above a predetermined threshold approximately 75 percent of the time. “This represents a long-term solution to the regional problem, provides for a long-term source. It would provide a larger volume of water to provide for greater recharge to the region,” said Scott Laidlaw, water supply bureau chief for the St. Johns River Water Management District. Laidlaw said the water management district has investigated the plan for four years.

Lake Geneva and Lake Brooklyn are major recharge areas for the upper Floridan Aquifer, the primary underground water source for Northeast Florida. A bill currently working its way through committees in the Florida Senate – Senate Bill 234 – and its Florida House companion – House Bill 847 – currently stalled in the house, would earmark $35 million a year in Amendment 1 funds for projects involving the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes Region.

Florida voters approved the Florida Land and Conservation Initiative – Amendment 1 – in 2014 to divert 33 percent of net revenue from the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The fund was developed to acquire and improve beaches, wildlife habitats, conservation easements and drinking water resources – among others. The Keystone Lakes Region has dealt with low flow levels in its lakes for decades, thus causing water level fluctuations in the Etonia Chain.

Lake Geneva and Lake Brooklyn – both part of the Etonia Chain – recharge the aquifer as water naturally drains into sinkholes below the rock bed. As a result, water levels in those lakes have been consistently low and mostly relied on storm water. “The attention given to Keystone Lakes in important,” said Lisa Rinaman St. Johns River Riverkeeper. “It’s just about making sure that there are no intended consequences to Black Creek. But if it’s recharging our aquifer, then all our waterways will benefit.”

The Riverkeeper currently has a hydrologist studying the plan. The results of that study are not out yet. SB 234 is currently in the Senate appropriations committee to be considered as a law after it unanimously sailed through its first committee – a committee Bradley co-chaired – in early February. “We’re doing everything we can right now and fighting hard,” Bradley said. “So far so good.”

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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