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Lake's rising water threatens four homes

Homeowners near Lake Century in Hernando County prepare for flooding as experts try to explain the cause of the advancing water.

By ROBERT KING
Published September 13, 2003

photo
[Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark]
Lake Century's overflow water surrounds this home at 5120 Carissa Court in Spring Hill. The rising water level is apparently coming from Lake Theresa, state and county officials say.

SPRING HILL - Lake Century, a small body of water south of Northcliffe Boulevard that ran dry earlier this year, has been rising mysteriously of late and now threatens several homes never previously approached by high water.

Curiously, the lake has advanced even though no rain has fallen on Lake Century since last Saturday, when about an inch fell during Tropical Storm Henri.

State and county officials say it appears that water from nearby Lake Theresa is draining into Lake Century. They moved Friday to cut off that flow by blocking a culvert that connects Lake Theresa with Lake Crescent, which then flows into Century.

Water crept within a few feet of four homes - two on Carissa Court, one on Beachwood Court and one on Mosquero Road. Residents were filling sandbags and, in some cases, sealing shut their sliding glass doors with caulk and plastic sheeting.

Richard and Kay Lee, who live at 5217 Mosquero Road, had water lapping against the side of their garage on Friday, against their pool screen and standing several inches deep in a canal adjacent to their home.

The water had risen so much that Mr. Lee began feeding earthworms, pushed to the surface by the saturated ground, to a school of bass in his back yard.

The Lees, whose home was identified by county officials as the most threatened on Lake Century, saw the water rise several inches and creep more than 2 linear feet farther toward their home overnight Thursday, Mr. Lee said.

Around the corner at 5120 Carissa Court, Barbara Nieradka and her son, Tom, have watched Lake Century rise during the past few days and overtake a landscaped patio area in their back yard.

A small ornamental pond was swallowed by the lake. But with a flock of ibises feeding nearby, their small pond fish wisely decided not to venture out.

Inside, Tom Nieradka fears that toilets that don't seem to be flushing properly may be a sign of water flooding their septic system.

All around Lake Century, residents who now see their lawns disappearing under the rising water say this is the highest they have seen the water. When they bought their homes, many say, the lake was 60 to 100 feet away from their homes. Told they weren't required to purchase flood insurance, none bought it. Now they face a possible flood.

"I never in my wildest imagination thought I would be in danger of imminent flooding," Mr. Lee said.

Dave Arnold, a professional engineer with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, has some ideas about what is happening.

Lake Theresa, a larger body of water to the south between Deltona Boulevard and Waterfall Drive, is connected by sinkholes to the underground sea known as the Floridan Aquifer.

After a rainy summer, groundwater levels in the aquifer, which supplies most of the state's drinking water, were high. But last weekend's tropical storm, which dumped more than 4 inches of rain on parts of Hernando County, has it supercharged, Arnold said.

So even though little rain fell in parts of Spring Hill, gravity is moving the water from the higher elevations in the Brooksville area. In Spring Hill, water has stopped draining down and appears to be percolating upward, through the limestone layers, into Lake Theresa.

Clearly, higher water levels in Lake Theresa have begun to spread out into nearby lakes, Arnold said.

On Friday, Hernando County's Public Works Department plugged a culvert on Bay Drive, just east of Deltona Boulevard, connecting Lakes Theresa and Crescent. That appeared to slow the tide, said county water resource specialist John Burnett.

And he expects the Lake Century residents to remain dry, barring any more heavy rains. Lake Theresa residents should not be affected, he said, because homes there are built on higher ground. But county officials will keep a close eye on lake levels anyway.

And just in case, county work crews will clear out a clogged connector pipe near Cobblestone Drive that is currently above the Lake Theresa water line. If Lake Theresa rises higher, that will allow more water to flow into Hunter's Lake and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

The bottom line is that Hernando County, which has seen sporadic flooding throughout the summer, appears on its way to setting new annual rainfall records in 2003, Burnett said.

"The vast majority of people in the Spring Hill area have not lived here long enough to see Florida in a wet, tropical climate," Burnett said.

The Withlacoochee River, which has been flooded most of the summer, finally appears to be going down. Forecasters say it should drop below flood stage by the end of the weekend.

Still, a portion of County Line Road remains under water and will for some time.

And residents along Rhanbuoy Drive in Berkeley Manor in Spring Hill are still waiting for county help in their recovery from a flood caused when two water retention ponds spilled over into their homes. They want the county to pay for the damage, but the county's insurance company has yet to decide if it will cover their losses.

- Robert King can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 13, 2003, 01:46:42]


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