By Mitch Peterson
Edited by Linda Ruble
There has been a lot of discussion about whether Lake Tarpon should become a brackish water lake again. There are pros and cons for both sides of this argument, but Lake Tarpon would be best if it was in its original state.
Lake Tarpon is a two thousand, five hundred and thirty-four acre lake, which was originally a beautiful, crystal clear, brackish water, fisherman’s paradise. To help with flood control in the 1960s, Lake Tarpon was blocked off from the Gulf of Mexico by the construction of a dam. The exclusion of waters from the Gulf has resulted in the lake becoming strictly fresh water; which has allowed weeds to grow, caused the water to turn brown, and made it attractive to alligators.
Although Lake Tarpon is still a great place to enjoy boating, and maybe enjoy wakeboarding or tubing, removing the dam would create a major change in the lake by bringing in brackish water again. This would help to clear up the water and make the alligators evacuate, allowing fish to grow. The fish would be as big and healthy as in earlier years, and the lake would be restored to the gem it once was.
As sensible as this seems, not everyone is convinced. The dam was originally built to help control flooding. This has mostly worked, but it was also intended to make the lake a freshwater resource. Unfortunately, that has not worked out so well. The waters of Lake Tarpon are not only brown from the surrounding cypress trees, but are now filled with runoff water containing fertilizer and other chemicals, causing it to be unfit for human consumption. Now, the lake is only fit for recreational purposes.
Though the logic of restoring Lake Tarpon to its original brackish is sound, money is also a major consideration. Neither Pinellas County, nor the State of Florida wants to pay for the removal of the dam, or to find a new route for flood waters. New routes for the overflow water have been proposed, but the funding is not available.
There is an alternate plan that would work perfectly to solve this problem. The natural spring known as the Tarpon Sink, was blocked off at the same time the dam was built. It could be used to re-connect Lake Tarpon to the Gulf in a different spot. If the barrier between Lake Tarpon and the spring was removed, it would become slightly brackish again; and it would not have flooding effects on the lake. This could be a relatively inexpensive project and would result in clearer waters and healthier, bigger fish.
In conclusion, there are pros and cons to the costs and methods of restoring Lake Tarpon to its original brackish state; but it would ultimately be in everyone’s best interest to bring this large body of water back to what nature intended.