St. Petersburg’s “Mr. Lakes” lays out options to improve Historic Round Lake

The city applied for an irrigation permit with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
A look at the dry conditions at the Historic Round Lake Park, located at 6th Street & 6th Avenue North, in the Uptown neighborhood  on Monday, March 14, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
A look at the dry conditions at the Historic Round Lake Park, located at 6th Street & 6th Avenue North, in the Uptown neighborhood on Monday, March 14, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 22, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — The city worker known as “Mr. Lakes” sat in a folding chair and gave a group of concerned Historic Uptown residents their options on what could be done about disappearing Historic Round Lake.

Gintas Zavadzkas came on his personal time to speak at the once-picturesque lake that has shrunk to a “mudpit” over the past few months due to how little rain has fallen. At Monday’s sunset, it nearly resembled its former self after recent rains.

But continuing dry conditions could make it worse for the lake, which is likely man-made. Zavadzkas made it clear that any improvements would be aesthetic, but went over the group’s options to keep up the lake’s appearance.

A geologist and three others from the Southwest Florida Water Management District visited Round Lake about two weeks ago. The problem is, because of the way the area slopes down to the lake, Water Management District workers think there is likely a sinkhole in the lake bottom. So pumping water from another lake could result contaminating groundwater that is used for drinking water.

Zavadzkas is a biologist hired by the city last year after a nationwide search. His job is to conduct an assessment of the city’s 82 lakes and with the goal of preventing toxic algae blooms from happening.

“I could have picked any other job,” he said. “And I chose St. Pete because you have a lot of problems with your water.”

The city went ahead and applied for a permit with the Water Management District to help with irrigation around Round Lake. City officials recently learned that a pump installed in the lake in the 1970s recently broke, but now the water district prohibits pumping water into lakes.

Zavadzkas said one option would be to “do the wrong thing” and seek to pump a limited amount of water from another lake. But that would take water away from other residents and worsen dry conditions. It also would need an augmentation permit from the Water Management District, which takes two years to process — and there’s only 10 in Florida.

The other option, which Zavadzkas called the most “responsible, logical, feasible” option and also was favored by residents, is to gently scrape the edge of the lake by six inches, which would spread its water over a larger area. He said the entire lake cannot be dredged because it would risk opening the sinkhole wider, which could cause the lake to drain and contaminate the drinking water supply.

“These are all aesthetical things,” he said. “Six inches of water is not going to do anything for this lake.”

If anything, Zavadzkas said, more stagnant water could mean more mosquitos and gnats.

Another option would be to drop the water level and put in a layer of bentonite, which is like clay, to create a more solid lake bottom. That would enable it to retain water better. But that would require removing impervious surfaces around the lake, including the roads, to prevent flooding when the rain picks up.

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Zavadzkas suggested a partnership: Residents should come up with a plan, including sketching out measurements of the lake and cost estimates to scrape the sides of it. Eventually, residents would need to make a pitch to city staff and the City Council.

Jim Bays lives in Crescent Heights and has run the cleanup of Crescent Lake for 15 years. A wetland ecologist, he is the president of SoUL, Stewards of Our Urban Lakes. He’s taking charge of drafting the plan.

“You know, it’s worth the additional effort,” Bays told the group. “I think we have a different perspective is that the future is for us to define.”