Above-average rainfall to blame for Gotha flooding problems, report says

Neighbors refute report, plan to file lawsuit

GOTHA, Fla. – Engineers commissioned by Orange County leaders recently completed a $200,000 study looking into the cause of flooding concerns in the West Orange County community of Gotha.

“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.”

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 about what was causing the sustained flooding.

[PREVIOUS STORY: New report provides clues to origin of Gotha flooding problems]

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

Mery and Juan Fernandez still make mortgage payments on their empty Gotha home, even after nature moved in a year ago and flood waters took over their first floor.

“It’s a disaster,” Mery Fernandez said. “I don’t like to come here because I get very upset. It does affect me.”

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

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

“That report was basically a manipulation of the truth,” Fernandez said. “That’s how I see it.”

Neighbors note that an early draft version of the report pointed to the Turnpike Authority as a possible culprit, mentioning repeated flooding problems at Mills Pond, and several previous studies looking into the issue:

“It appears that an effort was made by the Turnpike [Enterprise] to investigate the reported complaints associated with the documented high water levels within Mills Pond. However, it does not appear that any corrective actions were taken.”

[READ MORE: Orange County approves $200,000 study into Gotha flooding problems | Gotha residents confront Orange County commission over flooding]

That exact language did not make it into the final report, and was instead replaced with this:

“It appears that an effort was made by the Turnpike Enterprise to investigate the reported complaints associated with the documented high-water levels within Mills Pond. The Turnpike reviewed their plans in the area and determined they followed FDOT criteria and the SJRWMD issued permit. Therefore, the Turnpike took no mitigation measures. The Turnpike did install additional underdrains within Ponds 9, A2 and NB30 that were constructed as part of the Florida Turnpike and State Road 408 interchange improvements. The Turnpike also indicated that some of the existing underdrains were removed. As a result of this uncertainty in baseflow rates, it is recommended that the county direct this issue to the Turnpike so it can be further investigated.”

The report isn’t sitting well with some residents.

“We got to make them do the right thing and correct it,” resident David Boers said.

David Hamstra, with Pegasus Engineering, co-authored the report, entitled “Gotha Lakes Watershed Management Plan Update.” He spoke to News 6 earlier this year after a draft was submitted to the county.

“From a development point of view, a lot has happened out there,” he said in June.

News 6 reached out to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and outgoing County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, who ordered the study. Both declined to speak until after engineers present the report to the county commission during a work session scheduled for Sept. 22.

However, ahead of Hurricane Isaias, Demings reassured residents about potential flooding in the future during his scheduled briefing.

“Lake Nally near the Gotha area always seems to be an area that is more prone to flooding,” he said on July 31. “But I want the residents who live out in the Gotha and Lake Nally area to know we too are concerned and have been proactive to try to address that.”

As for residents in Gotha, they told News 6 they’re planning to file a lawsuit against the county in the near future.

“Definitive plans to file a lawsuit,” resident Stacey 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.”

Boers said he, too, is committed to continuing the fight.

The full report can be read here:

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