Oyster Lake outfall under construction

SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The health of one local coastal dune lake is in danger, but a new project should fix that.

Oyster Lake is one of Walton County's few rare coastal dune lakes.

"Dune lakes are both important and cool because of their extreme rarity. They are only found in a few places throughout the world," Erika Zanbello with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance said.

Just like other coastal dune lakes, when the water rises too high, it needs a point of release, known as an outfall.

"An outfall is when a coastal dune lake actually opens up into the Gulf of Mexico," Zanbello explained. "[It's where] the saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico rushes into the coastal dune lakes and also the fresher water from the coastal dune lakes exchanges with that of the Gulf of Mexico."

Due to this year's major storms, Oyster Lake's outfall was blocked but has since been cleared.

"Nate, in particular, washed in a tremendous amount of sand which in some ways was very good for the project but in other ways, it meant there was unlikely to be a natural breakout of the outfall for quite some time," said a homeowner who lives next to the outfall.

The homeowner explained that when it would eventually release on its own, it would wash thousands of gallons of water into the gulf whichever way it could.

"If it did it would likely be pretty catastrophic," she said.

"This has a tendency in high waters to flood so having this outfall operational is very important," said Walton County resident John Stasko.

That is one reason why some locals believe the outfall needs to be reinforced.

"To maintain them and make sure they stay pristine and the way they were intended to naturally is really important," Stasko said.

"Ever since 30A was built over it and culverts were installed, there was a difficulty with the interchange of the fresh and salt water and that created the situation where Oyster Lake was deemed to be unhealthy," the homeowner added.

To fix the problem, Walton County is working with state agencies to install vinyl siding in the outfall.

"They're trying to restore this project to its original parameters and most of what is being done is the same or very similar to what was done originally, except that some heavier duty materials are being used," the homeowner said. "The primary difference is the matting for the vegetation used that will help hold the roots of all the sea oats and native plants that are planted so that if there is a rain event and the outfall were to break out, it does not wash away all those plants."

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance officials said maintaining the outfall is important to the lake's ecosystem.

"So, in a coastal dune lake you have brackish water which is a mix of fresh and salt water and when the outlets open up to the Gulf of Mexico you can get a really interesting assembly of different species living in the coastal dune lake," Zambello said.

"I think it's fabulous that the authorities are taking the time and spending the money to preserve these jewels we have along the coast. Along with the gulf, these lakes are what makes this area so special," Stasko said.

Homeowners told NewsChannel 7 the county, Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are all working together on this project.