County leaders respond after above-average rainfall blamed for Gotha flooding problems

Neighbors plan to file lawsuit

GOTHA, Fla. – During Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, engineers detailed the findings of their $200,000 study into the cause of flooding concerns in Gotha.

Last year, News 6 detailed the record flooding in the Gotha area, specifically at Lake Fischer, Lake Nally, Lake Hugh, Mills Pond and Gotha Pond, as neighbors searched for answers as to what was causing the sustained flooding.

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For months, neighbors blamed the flooding on nearby housing development and expansion on the Florida Turnpike.

However the report reached a different conclusion.

“The Gotha Lakes Watershed has experienced flooding as a result of elevated lake levels primarily in Lake Nally, Mills Pond and Gotha Pond generally during consecutive years of above normal rainfall,” the report concluded. “Unlike rivers, streams and other conveyance systems that react to high intensity / short duration storm events that lead to flooding, land-locked lakes tend to react to above average cumulative rainfall. For that reason, an emphasis is placed on annual rainfall and cumulative above average rainfall, which typically correlates very well with elevated lake levels.”

David Hamstra with Pegasus Engineering co-authored the report.

“Landlocked lakes like the five we have in the Gotha lakes study tend to react delayed and as a result of above average rainfall for multiple years,” he said.

“You kind of summed it up when I heard ‘buyer beware’ and do your homework when you’re in a position to purchase a property on a lake, whether it be landlocked or not,” County Attorney Jeff Newton said.

The report goes on to suggest potential solutions to help better manage flood issues including:

1. Expanding available floodplain storage

2. Adding a recharge well with provided water quality treatment

3. Pumping and conveyance of excess stormwater outside of the Gotha Lakes Watershed, with water quality retrofit

“I’m not sure any solutions are easy to accomplish,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. “For those who live on or near lake bodies, this is something that’s always relevant when you are doing your due diligence before you acquire such properties.”

Most neighbors declined to submit written comments during the Board of County Commissioners meeting. However, News 6 spoke with many of them when the report first came out two weeks ago.

Mery and Juan Fernandez’s family dock still sits underwater, and serves as a constant reminder of the flooding they’ve endured, which forced them out of their home last year.

[Previous stories: New report provides clues to origin of Gotha flooding problems | Above-average rainfall to blame for Gotha flooding problems, report says]

“That report was basically a manipulation of the truth, that’s how I see it,” Mery Fernandez said. “I want people to know this can happen to anyone.”

Paul and Stacey DeHart helped found the website “Gotha Floods,” which documents the issues in the surrounding area.

“Our lake is at a level it’s never been in recorded levels of this lake,” Stacey DeHart said. “Above average rainfall doesn’t equal record breaking levels at our lake.”

“You never really understand how much it affects you until someone starts putting water on your own private land,” neighbor David Boers added.

Those residents joined together and told News 6 they are planning to file a lawsuit against the county in the near future.

“Definitive plans to file a lawsuit,” DeHart said. “The risk is too great. The worry is there every day. It doesn’t go away whether it’s our dry season or wet season. These aren’t just houses either, they’re our homes.”

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