By Debbie Hamby Heard
We all know that the 15 named “Coastal Dune Lakes” in Walton County are one of the rarest natural resources on the planet. But did you know that they are not simply collections of rain water, or drainage pools, as they may appear at first glance—especially to visitors? The Coastal Dune Lakes are literally “fed” in large part by freshwater traveling a very long way south, including underground! Water in the lakes comes through a system of freshwater springs, rivers, streams, and groundwater seepage. It’s all part of the Choctawhatchee River’s massive watershed and water basin. It’s the same “system” of sources from which we get our drinking water—whether you’re on public water supply or have a private well-pump. Safe Water for Walton is exclusively focused on this watershed, over 6 counties. The Coastal Dune Lakes are imperiled as a publicly owned resource and need constant monitoring. They provide a show of strength through their intermittent exchanges with the Gulf of Mexico. We all see these “outfalls” with great excitement. When the waters of one of these small bodies forces itself open, and releases tea-colored water full of tannins into the mighty emerald waters, that natural art transpiring before your eyes is indescribable. The hydrological system of these lakes also provides critical habitat for dozens of endangered species of plant and animal life. The lakes even serve us with natural protection from major storms.
The Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board was formed in the 1980s as a private group. In the mid-1990s, during the first County Comprehensive Plan, the Board became part of Walton County, which is making strides for the lakes’ protection. The Board oversees lake management plans. Some early protections of the lakes date back in records to 1939. We look forward to finishing up an extensive study of the lakes started by the County and the Advisory Board in 2017—the results will be released soon.
Debbie Hamby Heard serves on the Advisory Council of Safe Water for Walton. She is also Chair of the Walton County Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board. She is a longtime Realtor® and owner of Beach Life 30A.
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