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LOW LAKE, CANAL LEVELS DRY UP BOATING BUSINESSES

From his office, Roger Griffiths said he can watch as boaters try to get through the canal between Lake Shipp and Lake Lulu.

Griffiths, executive director of the Lake Region Lakes Management District, said some boats can still make it between lakes, but he doesn't consider most of the canals in the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes to be navigable.

At 128.82 feet above sea level on Wednesday, the chain is still more than a foot higher than the all-time low of 127.50 it reached in June 2001.

But the chain is less than 3 inches higher now than it was at this time in 2001.

In mid February 2001, the chain stood at 128.60, Griffiths said.

Since December, the lake levels have fluctuated below 129 feet. A month ago, on Jan. 21, the lake level stood at 128.86, while on Dec. 21, the level was at 128.80.

The low point in that period was on Dec. 28, 2007, when the lakes dropped to 128.78. The last time the level was at 129 feet was on Nov. 30, 2007.

So far, Griffiths said, the rain the area has received has been just enough to slow the drop in levels caused by evaporation.

But, he said, "it's going to take a lot of water to bring this back up."

Until the summer rains begin in May or June, the chain is likely to continue to drop.

And until those rains begin, boaters and business owners who rely on the chain will continue to suffer.

Bill Smith, who owns Boating America, normally keeps his rental pontoon boats at the Aloha Rainbow Marina off Lake Eloise.

Since the canal leading into the marina is not passable, he said, he is now parking them outside the canal entrance.

When someone rents a pontoon boat, he walks through a neighbor's yard to get to it, and then delivers it to a public park on Lake Summit.

He said the canal between lakes Summit and Eloise is passable, but "that's as far as you can go."

He said the lakes have fluctuated a little with recent rains, but the levels "are still terrible."

"That's not going to change until we get some real rain," he said.

Chrysa Emmerich, who owns the Aloha Rainbow Marina with her husband, Bill Stowell, said their "boat slips are empty."

She said the business is managing through the operation of a bait shop and with the income her husband brings in by working in construction.

Griffiths said boat ramps on the 16 lakes in the chain are still usable, since most were extended when the lakes were low in 2001.

However, he said, boaters who "power load," using their motors to push the boats onto trailers, often create holes at the end of ramps.

Such holes can cause damage to trailers if wheels get caught, he said.

Polk County officials have closed boat ramps at Lake Buffum, Lake Livingston, Crystal Lake, Lake Deeson and Lake Sears because the ramps are out of the water.

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