By LEAH STRATMANN
Recently Draper Lake, one of the environmentally fragile and rare coastal dune lakes did exactly what it is supposed to do: it broke through a sand barrier adjoining it with the Gulf of Mexico. Eyewitnesses to the event think the breach was aided and abetted by small children with shovels and pails, but the lake frequently does this on its own.
When the breach occurred, the rushing water was so fierce it washed two children into the gulf and they had to be rescued by kayakers.
“I’ve seen Draper Lake go from a six-inch trickle of water to a raging river eight feet wide in five minutes,” said Cliff Knauer, an engineer with Preble-Rish and a local expert on the coastal dune lake system. “Draper Lake and Western Lake do what they are supposed to do on a regular basis, which is an indication of a healthy coastal dune lake,” he said.
Member of the Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board (CDLAB) received permission last year from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to erect signs around the lake, warning people not to tamper with the outflows. “It is hard to get the permits from FDEP and we can only post the signs on a 4 x 4 post with no concrete and they frequently get washed away,” said Laura Pennington with Walton County Public Works. There was no sign present on the day Draper Lake erupted. New signs have been ordered for those that have been swept away and will be installed again as soon as they are ready. The signs read: “Any excavation seaward of the coastal construction control line (CCCL), to include opening or alteration of coastal dune lake outfalls, is PROHIBITED without possession of a valid permit pursuant to Chapter 161 of the Florida Statutes. Violations are punishable by fines and other administrative penalties.”
The signs have been up on the lakes for a year, but the dune outfalls are frequently tampered with. “The case on Draper Lake is not the usual case of five guys with a case of beer that we usually hear about,” said Meg Nelson, chairman of CDLAB. “However, the water is under so much pressure it doesn’t take much to cause the breach and it could definitely have occurred because children were digging in the outfall.”