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Construction of Black Creek Restoration Project flowing smoothly

Work to replenish lakes Geneva, Brooklyn expected to conclude next year

Posted 2/15/24

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The throaty sound of a crane is often muffled by the constant whir of traffic 30 yards away along State Road 21. But with each burst of power and belch of diesel smoke, another …

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Construction of Black Creek Restoration Project flowing smoothly

Work to replenish lakes Geneva, Brooklyn expected to conclude next year


Posted

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The throaty sound of a crane is often muffled by the constant whir of traffic 30 yards away along State Road 21. But with each burst of power and belch of diesel smoke, another 15 feet of the Black Creek Restoration Project is completed.

There haven’t been any significant setbacks. Soon, the $118 million project will be operational to send as much as 10 million gallons of excess water daily 17 miles from the South Fork of Black Creek to Alligator Creek and into lakes Brooklyn and Geneva. At the current pace, the lakes, once considered luxurious weekend playgrounds for affluent Jacksonville families, will finally lap what used to be their natural shorelines.

“I’m very pleased with the progress that they’re making,” said Save Our Lakes Organization President Vivian Katz-James. “I think later this year, they’ll have the filtration system. They’re going to do some testing once they get all the pipes down. We’re probably looking at getting the water flowing into Alligator Creek next year. If so, that would be incredible.”

The restoration project seemed like a pipe dream for nearly 40 years, but it’s quickly becoming a reality as crews wrap up construction of a massive pump station at Black Creek and State Road 16. Simultaneously, other workers are installing 17 miles of underground pipes along SR 16 and SR 21 to channel water to a 21-acre drain treatment filtration field northwest of Keystone Heights. That facility will filter tannins and phosphorus from the brownish waters of Black Creek before going into Alligator Creek, which feeds into both lakes Brooklyn and Geneva.

St. Johns River Management District Executive Director Michael Register gave “an update on one of our favorite projects, the Black Creek site,” during the district’s monthly meeting on Feb. 13 in Palatka. He said workers completed installing concrete collars and contractors are now backfilling the rest of the station. Also, a micro tunnel to the creek has been completed, so the next step is receiving the pumps in three weeks.

The Lake Region was founded by residents from the Northeast who wanted a vacation home that offered a mild climate, fishing, boating and swimming.

Residents around lakes Brooklyn and Geneva have fought for two generations to restore the water in the lakes, which dwindled to historic lows in the past 20 years. Once a vibrant source of water-related activities, years of below-average rainfall, a limestone base that allows water to seep into the Florida aquifer and earthen damns along Alligator Creek kept water from flowing into the lakes.

The Lake Brooklyn Association fought to have the obstructions removed from Alligator Creek, but nearby sand mines, Camp Blanding and development had also affected the lake levels.

In 2022, SJRWMD, Save Our Lakes Organization, officials from the State, County and Keystone Heights, Clay County Utility Authority, Gainesville Regional Utilities, St. Johns Utilities and JEA all worked to complete the Black Creek Water Resource Development Project.

Three days after the announcement, crews started clearing land for the pump station and work hasn’t slowed since.

Once completed, the levels at both lakes Brooklyn and Geneva are expected to rise by at least 10 feet. The pumping project will also increase water to the Upper Florida aquifer by percolating through the lake’s bottom.

“Everybody is getting very helpful that the Keystone community will be able to shepherd the growth so that it still has that Florida feel,” Katz-James said. “That’s what I’m hoping for the future.”