City, state and county officials met Thursday morning to begin an effort to restore Cooter Pond so that fish will once again thrive in its waters, boats can traverse it and people can enjoy its renewed beauty.
By the end of the two-hour meeting, the group had settled on a strategy. They agreed to lobby the state for inclusion on a list of lake restoration projects.
If Cooter Pond makes the list in May, the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission will try to develop a restoration plan. Grants may be available from the agency to implement the plan.
City Manager Bruce Banning started the meeting with a brief history of some of the pond's troubles. He noted that the city used to dump its treated sewage effluent into nearby Lake Henderson. That discharge would travel directly into Cooter Pond.
City Council member Pete Kelly said that before the sewer treatment plant was built in the 1950s, untreated sewage was dumped into Cooter Pond. Storm-water from State Road 44 also carries pollution into the 22-acre lake.
In conjunction with the SR 44 widening project scheduled to begin downtown in two months, the state and the city are cooperating on a joint drainage retention area. It will be large enough to address the storm-water from the expanded pavement of the road and to handle some of the tainted water that now ends up in the pond.
But more needs to be done, according to the group, which included Citrus County's aquatics director, city officials and representatives from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
"Over the years, the vegetation has increased, and it's gotten so you can't even canoe" on the pond, Banning said. "Now it's virtually impossible to get out there and fish."
Jim Kelly of DNR and Pete Kelly of the City Council suggested that the pond be dredged. Sam McKinney of the game commission said that without dredging or some other solution, "it'll eventually fill in."
The pond gradually has grown more shallow as vegetation dies and drops to the bottom.
Danon Moxley, a biologist in the Lakeland office of the game commission, told the group it more likely would receive state help if officials can show that the public is behind the restoration project. Pete Kelly said the council would schedule a hearing on the idea to receive public comments.