Minimizing Risk of The Most Important Resource

The Lakes & Stormwater Division of Lakeland ensures safety of its water

By Brian Alvarado

Water is one of the most important natural resources that our nation has. For the City of Lakeland, Fla., overseeing its lakes is a crucial part to everyday life for its residents. With over 45,000 acres, Lakeland contains 38 named lakes. To help maintain, manage, and treat these lakes, the City established the Lakes & Stormwater Division to help ensure safety and protect its water resources.

The Division is funded solely through the collection of stormwater fees through the City’s Stormwater Utility that was instilled 1999.

“The Division brings tremendous value to the community through the variety of activities and programs that improve the quantity and quality of stormwater management, flood control and flood risk reduction,” said Lakes & Stormwater Division Manager Laurie Smith.

On a more technical level, the Lakes & Stormwater Division also helps maintain compliance with State and Federal environmental rules and regulations. This includes the City’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge stormwater to the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) and the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection Surface Water Quality Standards.

Not only does the Division protect the City’s lakes, but it also provides community education and outreach, such as working with local businesses to reduce illicit discharges to the stormwater system.

Funded solely through the collection of stormwater fees through the City’s Stormwater Utility that was instilled in 1999, the Lakes & Stormwater Division has been able to overcome challenges like meeting unfunded regulatory mandates.

Managing in Multiple Ways

The Lakes & Stormwater Division is engaged in multiple responsibilities, projects, and programs that are undertaken primarily to protect property and the natural resources of the City. Several important ongoing programs include the televising of stormwater drainage pipes. The televising crew assesses approximately 10 percent of the City’s 1,023,661 linear feet of drainage pipes annually.

“As the City’s stormwater infrastructure ages, televising the pipes allows the Department to identify and focus our resources on the areas most in need of the attention,” Smith said.

Additionally, a robust street sweeping program, including six street sweepers that sweep every curbed mile of the City approximately twice per month, helps with keeping Lakeland lakes clean. Annually, this removes up to 2,500 tons of debris, sediment, and trash from streets that might have entered Lakeland’s stomwater system. The garbage and debris would have otherwise resulted in clogs, flooding, and pollutes the receiving bodies of water.

The Division operates and maintains 67 stormwater treatment facilities. Currently, the Lakes & Stormwater Division has been involved in the construction of a treatment facility for the purpose of treating stormwater from approximately 200 acres of light industrial and commercial facilities before discharging to Lake Hunter.

The facility includes two wet retention ponds, the retrofit of two dry detention basins to wet detention basins, the repair of a concrete culvert, and installation of a pollution control baffle box to name a few.

Among other things, the City is in the process of devising a Comprehensive Stormwater Management Master Plan (SWMMP). This will assist Lakeland in planning stormwater management activities and prioritizing stormwater projects for the next several decades.

“The previous plan was completed in 1992, and with new stormwater regulations such as the NPDES programs for municipalities and surface water quality mandates…” Smith said.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

The Division has seen its fair share of success over the years. In particular, the Lakes & Stormwater Division has been awarded on multiple occasions for its work.

In 2018, the Florida Stormwater Association recognized Lakeland’s Lakes & Stormwater Division as a Program of Excellence. It also earned the American Public Works Association (APWA) Project of the Year for the Lake Hollingsworth Shoreline Restoration Project.

Smith attributes the success to the Division’s key members, which include Jessica Schilling, Sandra Pope, Cole Edwards, Cody O’Gorman, Elias Sierra, Alton Johnson, Amy Combee, Louis Reynolds, and Ryan Permentil.

“All of our team members bring specific talents to the team that results in a broad and diverse spectrum of abilities and interests that allow us to accomplish many different and exciting projects,” Smith said. “We each are passionate about protecting our City’s natural resources and understand the importance of each of our roles.”

From environmental specialists and maintenance foremen, to engineers and technicians, each member plays a vital role in allowing the Division to take on a variety of responsibilities effectively.

The lakes bring a sense of pride to its workers, as keeping up with the lakes connects residents to each other as well. By improving and maintaining the lakes, the City is able to give its citizens access to activities such as boating, fishing, and other recreational opportunities via lakeshore parks and recreation trails.

Recent News

Recently, the Lakes & Stormwater Division purchased an aquatic plant harvester boat and an airboat that will be utilized to control invasive plant species within drainage conveyances, stormwater treatment ponds, and surface water bodies throughout the city.

The control and removal of these aquatic plants will result in improved stormwater quality, stormwater retention capacity, and flood control. Cutting down on the aquatic plants will also reduce pollutant loadings to the surface waters.

“Mechanically removing the plants will result in reduced amounts of decaying plant material in the conveyance, storage and treatment systems,” Smith said. “This will help to keep the storage capacity at a maximum and improve surface water quality at the same time. Both vessels are currently under construction and the City hopes to take delivery of both in June 2020.”

The Division is involved in managing flooding risks, wastewater treatment, and reduction of pollution.

In regards to the current pandemic that’s affecting just about all walks of life, the Division has been doing its part in slowing the spread. Just like many organizations around the country, the department has had to make the tough decision to reduce the amount of public education and outreach activities.

“Staff have been practicing social distancing as they carry out their daily activities, and accordingly, there have been some short term delays in the start of some projects so that the amount of interactions with the public and contractors can be reduced,” Smith said.

As the Division carries on, its members are focused on improving in any area possible. The desire for more knowledge is what propels the Division and its members on the path to even more success. All staff is actively involved in professional associations, attending workshop and seminars to exchange ideas and information.

Brian Alvarado is the Editor at American Infrastructure Magazine. He may be reached at