Lochloosa Watershed Field Trip – October 19, 2013



On Saturday, October 19, 2013 thirteen Sierrans toured the area east of Gainesville where the Plum Creek Corporation is planning one of the largest development projects in Alachua County history.   Known as Envision Alachua, the project hopes to ultimately build 10,000 homes, and attract high tech business and high end manufacturing.


The Sierra Club is concerned this project will produce sprawl in the rural eastern part of the county, will exacerbate the problem of nutrient pollution in Lake Lochloosa, one of our largest lakes, and will aggravate water supply problems for the already stressed Silver Springs.


The group met at Grove Park where we spread out maps and oriented everyone to the project area, which stretches north of Highway 20 (Hawthorne Road) from Newnan’s Lake to Hawthorne.   Particular attention was paid to drainage.

The area is predominately poorly drained pine flatwoods with a high water table, which is sometimes only inches from the land surface, even in the uplands.  There are numerous wetlands, and the entire area drains south into Lake Lochloosa, via Lochloosa Creek.  Traditionally, development of these wet landscapes involves lowering the surficial water table through a system of ditches.  Unfortunately, this usually dries up local wetlands as well.

The first photo is of Lochloosa Creek at a road crossing before it broadens out.  The second is a cemetery, which is (of course) placed on high ground.

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The group spent two hours driving around the area.  We stopped at Lochloosa Creek at several spots, and, guided by Alachua County Soil Survey Maps, visited areas of well drained and poorly drained soils.  We discussed how the various soil types affect drainage, and even dug a few holes with post-hole diggers for a first-hand view of soil hardpans and high water tables.

The first photo in the next group is Buford digging a hole with the posthole digger.  The photos after that show Tom discussing the soil and the two different types of soil that came out of the hole.  On the right side of the hole is sand.  On the left side is sand with clay mixed in.  If we had dug a bit further, we would have found true hardpan, which is the clay-like layer that is impervious to rainwater.


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The next photo is a high dry area with sandy soil typical of karst topography.


Most of the group headed home at noon, but six hardy souls kept touring around until 5:00PM, checking out the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area, Lochloosa Lake, and Burnt Island.   We were lucky to have Buford Pruit with us.  He is an excellent Florida ecologist.  When you go into the field with him, you will learn lots of new stuff.  We had a lunch of Honey Buns, soft drinks, and Moon Pies at the Lochloosa Fish Camp, under the cold gaze of stuffed bass, crappies, bluegills and striped bass, as well as a big old diamondback rattlesnake.

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The next photo was taken at the shoreline of Lake Lochloosa where the hydrilla is so thick, the water looks like pea soup.  Hydrilla is an invasive that started in Florida from a decorative plant used in aquariums. Now it is has infested many waterways in the US and Canada, but there is a bright side to hydrilla, it is a known bioremediation hyperaccumulator of Mercury, Cadmium Chromium and Lead. It looked as if it had been sprayed by herbicide.  


We also visited the water control weir where Orange Lake flows into Orange Creek, just north of Citra at Hwy 301.  The water level upstream of the weir (Orange Lake side) was about six feet higher than the downstream side.   A plaque on the weir states that Alachua County built it in 1963 to keep the lake level up for recreation.  The first photo of the next group shows eggs for both native and invasive species of snail (Lochloosa Lake). The white eggs (already hatched) are for the native species. The pinkish eggs which are laid in straight rows are for an invasive species of snail. Note that many more eggs are present for the invasive specie than for the native.  The second and third photos are of the shoreline of Lake Lochloosa.
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Alachua County will not go along with Marion County’s desire to plug the Orange Lake sinkhole, which drains water from the lake.  The county considers a fluctuating lake level to be good for the ecological health of the lake, a notion supported by scientists.   So, we couldn’t help but wonder why no one has thought about getting rid of the weir.


This will not be the last chance to learn about the Envision Alachua project.  A debate over the wisdom of this project is shaping up and future educational field trips to the project area are anticipated


Post by Tom Morris

Photos by Dave Wilson and David Moritz