Canal Maintenance
                - By Bill Dwinell

Many of us that live on Lake Istokpoga or just use it, are concerned about the condition of the canals that we live on, or navigate when boating on the lake. Many of the canals are so shallow that when the lake level drops in the summer, we either have difficulty navigating the canals or worse case, we can't get our boats out at all. This will become an even larger problem when the lake is drawn down to remove the tussock in a few years, as planned by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
This article will attempt to cover the options available to a property owner on Lake Istokpoga. While the article will spell out several options, your specific situation may not be exactly as described. In all cases you should discuss your specific situation with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
First, let me describe the various options available to resolve canal problems that have occurred because the canals have filled with sand, and or muck over time.

1. Removal of silt and sand from an existing canal, returning it to its original, documented depth
2. Removal of silt and sand from an existing canal, making it deeper than original documented depth
3. Removal of silt and sand from an existing canal that was not originally permitted.
4. Creating a new canal by dredging.

According to DEP, there are two types of canals to be considered, those on state-owned (sovereign) submerged lands and those privately owned submerged lands. This determination is done when an application to dredge a canal is made (see "The Application" below). Also, according to DEP, no state agency has any obligation to maintain residential canals. Another important consideration is whether the canal is eligible for maintenance dredging. This is also determined when a dredging application is submitted. Bottom line, if a permit was obtained when the canal was originally dug, and if you only want to dredge it back to its original depth, it is probably eligible for a no-cost maintenance permit.

If the canal was originally dug without the proper permit the process of dredging it is more complicated and will not be covered in this article. You should contact DEP for specific questions and estimated costs and requirements for obtaining a permit under these conditions.

Note: Option 4, Creating a new canal, has little or no chance of being approved by DEP, according to Annette Nielsen when I discussed this with her.

The Application
I want to start by saying that completing an application to dredge your canal may turn out to be much more complicated than you can imagine. Those with good documentation of the original canal will have the simplest task. We will briefly discuss the process and later offer suggestions on where to obtain the information required.

What do you need to supply with your application for a dredging permit? You will need as much information as possible about the original construction of the canal. The more you have, the easier it will be to get a permit. Some things you should have are:

Name of the water body
Latitude and longitude
Subdivision name
Corresponding street addresses or other directions
Origin and dredge history of the canal
Date of original construction
Purpose of the canal
History of maintenance
Funding sources
Historic aerial photographs
Copies of original permit, or permit references

By contacting DEP directly or visiting their web site at listed below, you can obtain a dredging (Environmental Resources Permit) application. You cannot apply "on-line", but must submit the application via regular mail to FDEP, 7451 Golf Course Blvd., Punta Gorda, FL 33982.
Processing the application can take some time, so submit your application as soon as possible. Also, please note that you will have to submit the original application with all the supporting documentation, and four additional copies of the application and documents.

After I complete the permitting process, When do I start the dredging?
Many of you are probably thinking that the best time to dredge your canals will be during the lake draw down, currently proposed for November 2002 to May 2003. While these dates might suit you today, keep in mind that the dates are likely to move again. If your canals are too shallow now, can you wait for the ever moving draw down? While you may be correct in waiting for your specific canal, I doubt it is the right answer for everyone. Many of us need our canals deeper now.
One big consideration is how you will dredge your canal. If your canal is accessible by land-based machinery, then you may be right in waiting for the draw down. But, if your canal can only be dredged using floating machinery, then there may not be enough water in your canal to do the dredging if you wait for a draw down. If you are not sure you should contact a contractor who specializes in dredging canals for advice.
If you determine that you cannot dredge your canal during the draw down, I recommend you begin the process of obtaining your permits soon because of the time it may take to process the permit and find a contractor to actually do the dredging. But, keep in mind that the permit is only good for two years.
One word of caution, dredging your canal before the draw down is no guarantee that you will have access to the lake during the draw down. You should keep in mind that the lake level will be dropped to 36.5 feet msl (mean sea level), or about one foot lower than it was this summer at it lowest point. You will only be able to dredge your canal back to its original depth.

Funding the dredging
Permit Costs:
If it is determined that your canal is eligible for a Maintenance Permit, there will be no charge for the permit application fee.
If it is not eligible for a maintenance permit exemption, DEP will contact you with a request for additional information and a permit fee based on the area (in cubic yards) to be dredged. According to John Fellows in a letter to me dated March 5, 1999, a permit could cost $500 plus any fees for preparing project drawings and surveying depths in affected areas for areas of an acre or less. This does not include any other fees to contractors or engineers for preparing project drawings and surveying depths in affected areas. Larger affected areas could cost even more both in application fees and contractor fees.

Sources of information
DEP The main web site is located at

The address for the permitting web site is
Environmental Resources Permitting program (941) 575-5814

Highlands County Tax Assessors Office or County Appraisers Office, 386-6500 extension 6685 (Ask about REDI Strips [Maps] for your canal)
South Florida Water Management District 800-432-2045 - Ask about permits for your canal

Contracting Sources
Listed below are a few local contractors that are believed capable of doing the dredging of canals. While we have listed a few, we are not recommending any of them. Furthermore, there are probably many more available that are not listed.

Cheyenne Excavating 699-1716
Brock Excavation 382-1781
CNB Land Service 655-0300
Hathaway's Land Service 465-4862
Hickey Excavation 699-0024
Ridge Citrus Services 699-9880
Southern Excavation 699-5700
Spofford Stage Inc/Site
Spring Lake Service 655-1742
Bo Tillman Excavating 465-5266
Tillman Construction 465-3522
Wilson's Lot Clearing 465-9552

Other considerations
Disposal of the spoil material must be considered. If a local upland storage area is not available for storing the materials then removing it could add considerable cost to the dredging. DEP requires "upland" storage. This means the material must be moved to a location where it cannot get back into the lake. If this spoil material has value, the county may have uses for this material and could help with disposal of the material.
If your canal is deemed State Owned submerged lands, then you must pay a severance fee for each cubic yard of material removed from the canal, if the material is determined to have economic value by DEP. The rational here is that it is state owned material and therefore you must pay for it. Since this material can be of different compositions a sieve test will determine the amount of organic material and the actual makeup of the spoil material and this will determine the actual cost, usually between $1.25 and $2.35 per cubic yard. For Highlands County this is generally $1.25 per cubic yard. The saving grace here is that you may be able to recover some of your money by selling the material. If the material is used for a public purpose, like public landfill cover, or school ground improvements, then the applicant can request the severance fee be waived.
The FWC stated a couple of years ago that they would try to include the canals in their permit application for the draw down. Since they made that statement, they have determined that this will not be possible. The FWC does plan to hold some public meetings to help explain the process for obtaining dredging permits. We will keep you informed of plans for these meetings.

It is time to start thinking about your canals and what you might want to do about them, if anything. Since it is likely to cost you a considerable amount to have your canals dredged, you might want to start talking to your neighbors to see if it is feasible to have the work done.