Sinkhole Swallows Scott Lake
By MIKE SALINERO The Tampa Tribune
Published: Jun 22, 2006
LAKELAND - Buzzards congregated around dead fish on the exposed mud flats of Scott Lake on Wednesday, while alligators and snapping turtles fought for their lives in the black ooze of a massive sinkhole.
Sinkholes occasionally open under lakes, but most of the sightseers who came to witness firsthand this disappearing water body south of Lakeland said they'd never seen anything like it.
Water in the 291-acre lake started to drain into two sinkholes early last week. The sinking ground cracked the wall in at least one house near the shore and damaged several docks.
The largest of the two sinkholes grew Wednesday into a gaping crevice at least 200 feet in diameter and 15-20 feet deep. It had expanded dramatically overnight Tuesday, collapsing a dock, a concrete walkway and a chain-link fence.
"I came at 11 a.m. this morning and the water came flushing down and down," said Linda Logan, a member of a local homeowners association. "It's heartbreaking. It's just devastating."
Only isolated pools of water, no more than a foot or two deep, remained by noon Wednesday. The edges of the largest sinkhole looked like a layered cake, with lighter shades of clay and sand topped by a dark brown blanket of silt
The lake is privately owned by surrounding homeowners, and they include elite families in Lakeland society, including the daughter of the late founder of Publix Supermarkets and the son of the late Bernie Little, owner of the famed speedboat, Miss Budweiser.
A committee of lakeshore residents formed a committee to figure out what to do. Carl Christmann, a senior geotechnical engineer for BCI Engineering and Scientists, a company hired by the residents, said a course of action couldn't be recommended until the sinkhole stops draining. He said it appeared water had stopped draining into one of the sinkholes.
"Whether it's completely plugged, I doubt it. Whether it's going to stay that way, that's a wait-and-see," Christmann said. "It's not unusual for these features to partially plug themselves, then the water accumulates and the water pressure causes the sinkhole to reactivate."
Restoring the lake will involve filling the sinkholes, either with sand or grout, or both, Christmann said. Rain and runoff from the surrounding watershed eventually will fill the lake.
Christmann said it could take weeks to months to plug the sinkholes. Restoring the lake could take years. He said he doesn't know what the work will cost.
Because the lake is privately owned, the state is not expected to provide any money, leaving homeowners to bear the cost.
Sinkholes form when groundwater levels drop, leaving empty crevices and cavities in the limestone aquifer. On dry land, a heavy rain then can wash overlying clay and sand into the aquifer, creating a hole at the surface. In this case, the holes opened up under the lake bed.
"Sinkholes are basically springs where the water's going in instead of going out," said Ann Tihansky, a sinkhole expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg.
Tihansky said sinkholes are largely seasonal. During the dry months of March, April and May, the aquifer levels decrease. Then, the first hard rains in June funnel the sand and clay into the underlying cavities.
The Floridan Aquifer, which underlies most of the state, rises closer to the surface in Central Florida, making the area prone to sinkholes, said Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Many of the lakes in Central Florida, including Scott Lake, were created by sinkholes.
Although the disappearing lake and growing sinkhole attracted plenty of curious visitors during the past week, such events are not really that rare in Florida, said Harley Means, a geologist with the Florida Geological Survey.
"The only thing atypical about it is that it happened to open up under a lake basin," Means said. "But even that is not an uncommon event in Florida."
Lake Jackson near Tallahassee has drained five times since 1999. The 4,000-acre lake has never drained completely.
A steady stream of visitors entered the Scott Lake property Wednesday through one of the few public access points. Most expressed amazement.
"It got down real low one time before, but I've never seen anything like this," said Trenton Gifford, who said he and his wife, Danielle, have lived near the lake for 21 years.
I saw this on the news the other day. It's certainly devastating for the home owners, but absolutely fascinating in terms of Geology.