A line drawing of hydrilla verticillata shows how most of the invasive plant actually lives below the surface of the water.
Lake Helen residents are turning their eyes to the town’s eponymous lake, and are not happy with what they see.
Spearheaded by a citizen-led group of activists called the Committee to Save Lake Helen Lake, the city is preparing to tackle the lake’s wide range of ecological issues, last seriously addressed circa 1982.
Today, the centennial lake is visibly shrunken, and is split into two sections by a land bridge created by stormwater runoff. The southern lobe of the lake is overrun with hydrilla, the massively invasive plant threatening many Florida waterways.
Henry A. DeLand would never have named the lake after his daughter if he could see it now, Save Lake Helen Lake member James Evans said at a Lake Helen City Commission meeting in February.
“If he’d’ve looked at that lake and saw all the grass and weeds in it and all the muddy water, and dirty water, he wouldn’t’ve named it after his daughter; he would’ve named it after his mother-in-law,” Evans said.
The Committee to Save Lake Helen Lake was formed in 2016. For two years, the homegrown group has lobbied governmental agencies and members to raise funds to help restore the lake for recreational use.
Thanks in part to activism from the committee, state Rep. David Santiago (R-Dist. 27) has brought forth a bill currently working its way through the Florida House, asking for $43,500 in funding to remove the land bridge, restoring the lake’s original form.
As for the hydrilla, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is moving forward on various environmentally friendly solutions, including a nontoxic herbicide, and the reintroduction of grass carp.
The FWC plans to begin spraying in the next month. Getting the action took a year of meetings with the committee.
In an email to the committee, the FWC said “significant hydrilla issues in the State” are overtaxing their current budget and crews.
Since hydrilla’s accidental introduction into Florida waterways in the 1950s, the fast-growing and difficult-to-kill plant has clogged waterways and pushed out native species of plants and animals.
Dense collections of the plant can sap oxygen from the water, killing native fish, as well as clogging boat motors, preventing fishing, and increasing the risk of drowning.
“Lake Helen is a public lake; it’s meant for all of its citizens to enjoy, and right now if you go to that shoreline, and you take your kids to fish, they can’t cast that line far enough. In fact, if they swim, it’s just not safe because of the hydrilla,” Save Lake Helen Lake Secretary Joy Taylor said.
“Become a member today,” Chairman Joe Hammett told those attending the City Commission meeting. “Buy a T-shirt. We need the money, people.”