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Response of a eutrophic, shallow subtropical lake to reduced nutrient loading


Michael F. Coveney, St Johns River Water Management District, Department of Water Resources, PO Box 1429, Palatka FL 32178–1429, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. Lake Apopka (FL, U.S.A.) was subjected to decades of high nutrient loading from farms developed in the 1940s on converted riparian wetlands. Consequences included perennially high densities of cyanobacteria, low water transparency, elimination of submerged vegetation, modified fish community, and deposition of nutrient-rich, flocculent sediments.

2. Initial steps were taken to reduce phosphorus (P) loading. Through strengthened regulation and purchase of farms for restoration, external P loading was reduced on average from 0.56 to 0.25 g P m−2 year−1 (55%) starting in 1993. The P loading target for the lake is 0.13 g P m−2 year−1.

3. For the first 6 years of P loading reduction the annual sedimentation coefficient (σ) averaged 13% less than the prior long-term value (0.97 versus 1.11 year−1). The sedimentation coefficient, σ, was lower in the last 3 years of the study, but this period included extreme low-water conditions and may not be representative. Annual σ was negative (net P flux to the water column) only 1 year.

4. Wind velocity explained 43% of the variation in σ during the period before reductions in total phosphorus (TP) concentration of lake water, but this proportion dropped to 6% after TP reductions.

5. Annual mean TP concentrations differed considerably from values predicted from external loading and hydraulic retention time using the Vollenweider–Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development relationship. Reductions in lake water TP concentration fit model predictions better when multiyear (3-year) mean values were used.

6. Evidence available to date indicates that this shallow, eutrophic lake responded to the decrease in external P loading. Neither recycling of sediment P nor wind-driven resuspension of sediments prevented improvements in water quality. Reductions in TP concentration were evident about two TP-resident times (2 × 0.9 year) after programmes began to reduce P loading. Improvements in concentrations of chlorophyll a and total suspended solids as well as in Secchi transparency lagged changes in lake-water TP concentration but reached similar magnitudes during the study.