LAKEWOOD RANCH — The first time Greenbrook Chase resident Rex James noticed something was eating grass clippings in the pond behind his home, he wasn’t sure what to think. But, he had a hunch.
“They were so big and lumbering, I thought they were alligators,” James said.
But as he later learned, the pond behind his home is one of the only remaining lakes in Lakewood Ranch that still has carp. The fish, which can grow to several feet in length, eat grass clippings and submerged vegetation in the lakes, helping to keep them clear from floating debris.
“We never have complaints about our pond,” James said. “Our pond looks like they just built it yesterday. They don’t go around spraying things on it all the time. It’s just clean all the way around the edges.”
Ryan Heise, Lakewood Ranch Town Hall’s director of operations, hopes to make comments like James’ the norm — and to use the oversized fish to do it.
Currently, Heise and the Inter-District Authority’s maintenance manager Paul Chetlain are working with the Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to get the appropriate permits and approvals to use carp in all of Lakewood Ranch’s lakes and also to determine how many can be placed in each body of water. Heise said he is applying for the maximum number of fish allowed in each lake — 20 — although fish would be introduced in smaller numbers.
“Carps are a biological lake maintenance tool to improve the aesthetics of storm water ponds,” Heise said.
The sometimes-shaggy appearance of Lakewood Ranch’s storm water ponds, which often can be attributed to algae blooms and water quality issues, is the No. 1 complaint the operations department receives from residents, Heise said.
Currently, dead algae floats on many of Lakewood Ranch’s ponds. But the carp will eat submersed vegetation in the lake, allowing for dead filament algae to sink or dissipate after a light chemical treatment.
“Treating submersed vegetation is the most costly part of our lake maintenance program,” Heise said. “(This is) a big opportunity for a reduction in lake maintenance costs. Likely by this time next year, we’ll (be able to) evaluate the effectiveness.”
The carp won’t prevent algae blooms, which are caused by having large quantities of fertilizer in the lakes, among other issues, but they will help keep the blooms from becoming so problematic, Heise said.
Ultimately, they could reduce the need for chemical pond treatments.
Barriers are required for lakes that feed into preserve areas or in areas that exit into the Braden River to ensure the fish stay in the lakes. The barriers must be constructed so they can be cleaned easily because plugged barriers could cause flooding or landscaping damage during a severe rain event, for example.
“We have to construct outfall barriers that are particular to each lake,” Heise said. “That’s what the maintenance team is up to at the moment.”
In total, the team will build about 80 barriers, about 20 for each community development district. The first barriers will be installed in Greenbrook.
Members of the maintenance team met with representatives of permitting agencies July 23 to show them the barrier prototypes the team has created and to get a feel for what changes may be needed to garner approval of the project.
Heise said he is hoping to begin stocking fish in the lakes in September, but doing so will depend on whether the maintenance team gets state agency approvals for the project. The carp program already is budgeted into this year’s community development district budgets and has been approved conceptually by board supervisors.
The operations team also is using other biological tools, such as plants and friendly bacteria and enzymes to aide in the decomposition process.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
In terms of pond maintenance, carp have a productive life of 10 years. The younger they are, the more they eat. Over time, as they age and increase in size, they eat less.