How Lake Apopka went from Florida's most polluted lake to the most promising

Wildlife return to fourth-largest lake in Florida

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – When Joe Dunn, acting president of the advocacy group Friends of Lake Apopka, built his home on the south end of Lake Apopka three years ago, the water did not look good.

"People who'd lived here for their entire lives stopped coming to the lake to fish, swim and boat because it had turned pea green," Dunn said.

Al Capone and Clark Gable were some of the famous fisherman drawn to Lake Apopka for its plentiful bass, according to Friends of Lake Apopka. Fish camps and hotels popped up to accommodate fisherman from all over the world.

Lake Apopka, once the bass-fishing capital of the Eastern United States, according to Dunn, had turned into a dead body of water.

Friends of Lake Apopka and the St. John's River Water Management District (SJRWMD) blame the farms.

In the early 1900s, farmers cleared 20,000 acres of wetlands, said lead scientist Dr. Dean Dobberfuhl.

"Perfectly flat, perfectly barren dirt," Dobberfuhl said. "Very daunting to go from that to functioning wetlands."

Farmers built levees to keep the lake water from flooding their farms but pumped in water for irrigation.

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