LAKEWOOD RANCH — The shoreline along parts of Lake Uihlein looks more like an abandoned sand pile than a lush Lakewood Ranch property.
Banks of disheveled sand and dirt are held in place by a scraggly display of vegetation. Slimy, green algae floats near the water’s edge, evidence of the community’s struggle to balance attractive lawn maintenance with the need to care for its water supply.
But by the end of summer, the dilemma may be over.
Through two grants, Lakewood Ranch is partnering with the University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program to improve the water quality at Lake Uihlein through an alternative landscape design.
“Most traditional stormwater ponds have turf all the way to the waterline, and then the turf is maintained, so it’s cut and fertilized,” said Michelle Atkinson, builder and developer coordinator for Florida Yards and Neighborhoods. “The cut and the fertilizer goes right into the stormwater ponds, which promotes poor water quality. Putting landscaping in creates a vegetative buffer zone, and the plants can filter some of the runoff before it goes in to the stormwater pond.”
Minimizing fertilizer runoff not only will mean less slimy green algae growing in the lakes but also it will translate in to a long-term cost savings on pond maintenance, said Ryan Heise, director of operations for Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Additionally, giving waterfront homeowners options for their property will help eliminate the difficulty some people are having with keeping their yards up to Lakewood Ranch’s lawn standards while also honoring a request not to use fertilizers within about 10 feet of the water’s edge.
Organizers are seeking volunteers from the community to participate in focus groups to help determine what landscape designs residents would find aesthetically pleasing at Lake Uihlein and potentially other storm water ponds in Lakewood Ranch.
“We’re trying to show the residents and have the residents tell us what a good lakefront should look like,” Heise said.
The focus groups will develop landscape pallets both for the shoreline and for the land abutting it that will include planting options for homeowner’s associations and for waterfront property owners.
“We’re hoping (residents will) incorporate the same type of landscape in their storm water ponds, which would be paid for through their homeowner’s association,” Atkinson said.
Heise said he also hopes the group will develop a pallet for lakes that do not front any homes.
If the project is successful, organizers hope to take the results to other ponds in Lakewood Ranch as well as to other communities, which are experiencing similar problems with water quality, said Paul Monaghan, an assistant professor at the University of Florida who will be facilitating much of the project.
“The solution we find at Lakewood Ranch, I hope, is going to be applicable in other counties around the state,” he said.
Funding for the project is being provided through grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Nursery Growers & Landscapers Association.
Anyone wishing to volunteer or make a donation of plants should contact Atkinson at 722-4524, Ext. 256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Pam McTeer at email@example.com.
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