History of Crooked Lake

History of Crooked Lake, Babson Park, Florida

(obtained from various state and local sources.)

Crooked Lake, which is also known as Lake Caloosa, is located in south-central Polk County, Florida in the Peace River Basin of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The lake is composed of several sub-basins, with the southernmost two basins known collectively as Little Crooked Lake.

Millions of years ago, when sea levels were much higher than today, only a few isolated hilltops of today’s Lake Wales Ridge (Florida’s Ancient Islands) were exposed as islands, offering sanctuary to the evolution of dozens of unique species of plants and animals. The rest of the Florida peninsula was covered by a shallow sea, where a vast array of sea life and corals lived and grew (information on ancient Florida). As the sea slowly receded during the ice ages, Florida was slowly exposed, and the new life forms expanded their range along the sandy dunes of the Ridge. Today, the thin, straight line of the 100 mile Ridge is clearly visible from space.

The Lake Wales Ridge is a unique geological feature forming a sandy, north-south oriented relict shoreline in central Florida. It is the primary divide between the Kissimmee River and Peace River basins and is an important ecological and water resource for the region. Rapid seepage of precipitation into the Ridge provides important recharge for the Floridian Aquifer while the remaining ecosystems along the Ridge support a number of rare or endangered plant and animal species, including several globally important plant communities such as Florida scrub.

The sandy, desert-like soils and arid habitat of the Lake Wales Ridge are home to species like the gopher tortoise, sand skink, indigo snake, and scrub jays, which have no natural fear of man. Rare plants like the scrub plum, pygmy fringe tree, and scrub blazing star make the area an attraction for botanists.

Today, this web of inter-dependent species is America’s equivalent of the Galapagos Islands. Threatened by conversion to agricultural, housing and commercial uses, this unique eco-system is rapidly disappearing under development pressures. A recently-created network of preserves, in both public and private hands, seeks to protect the diaspora of these rare species.

The southern and eastern portions of the lake lie within the Bartow Embayment of the Central Lakes Physiographic District, which is an extensive erosional basin filled with phosphatic and clayey sands. As part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Lake Bioassessment/ Regionalization Initiative, the area has been identified as the Northern Lake Wales Ridge and Southwestern Flatlands.

Lakes in the Northern Lake Wales Ridge lakes regions tend to be clear-water, alkaline systems with low to moderate nutrient levels. Lakes in the Southwestern Flatlands tend to be darker colored, slightly acidic to alkaline with high nutrient levels.

Crooked Lake was classified as an Outstanding Florida Water by the State in 1987. O.F.W.s include only 41 of Florida’s 1,700 rivers, several lakes and lake chains, several estuarine areas, and the Florida Keys. Crooked Lake is the only OFW in Polk County.

Uplands within the lake basin have, for the most part, been cleared of natural vegetative communities and are used for residential development, citrus production and livestock grazing. Historical photographs from 1941 through 2006 provide evidence for a long history of agriculture activity in the lake watershed. Wetland vegetation within the basin includes cattail, spatterdock, fragrant water lily, pickerelweed, maidencane,  torpedograss, bulrush, watershield, water pennywort, primrose willow, punk tree, and wax myrtle. The basin does not include any cypress dominated wetlands, although there are a few cypress within the basin.

The lake lies within the Crooked Lake Outlet drainage basin in the Kissimmee River – Below Lake Hatchineha Watershed, and has a drainage area of 31.3 square miles. Inlets include canals that drain uplands and wetlands located west of U.S. Highway 27. An outlet ditch, which was reportedly constructed in the 1880s and modified in the 1940s and 1950s, drains the basin from the southeast shore of Little Crooked Lake to Lake Clinch when the lake is staged higher than 120 ft above the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD).

Surface water withdrawals from the lake were common historically, but there are currently no District-permitted surface withdrawals. There are, however, 144 permitted groundwater withdrawal points located within one mile of the lakeshore. The average daily permitted withdrawal volume for the sites totals 5.73 million gallons per day.

Crooked Lake and the surrounding drainage basin where the subject parcel lies are also located within the District’s Southern Water Use Caution Area (SWUCA). Water use caution areas are where water resources are or will become critical in the next 20 years. The SWUCA water resource concerns include lowered lake levels in Polk and Highlands counties, and depressed aquifer levels which cause saltwater intrusion and contribute to reduced flows in the upper Peace River. Lake levels exhibited declines in Crooked Lake between the 1960s and the early 1990s. As a result, Crooked Lake has been included on the SWFWMD Stressed Lakes List. Barcelo et al. (1990) suggested that these historic declines were the result of below normal rainfall conditions, regional groundwater withdrawals from the Upper Floridian aquifer, and surface water drainage alterations.

Groundwater flow in the area is considered to consist of the surficial aquifer and the Upper Florida aquifer, which is a leaky confined aquifer and the primary source of water in the region. The intermediate aquifer acts as a confining  unit between the surficial and Upper Florida aquifers. Since 1990, lake levels have slowly increased by more than 10 feet in Crooked Lake. A “Minimum and Guidance Levels” report for Crooked Lake has recently been drafted by SWFWMD which recommends maintaining lake water levels to protect natural systems and water resources.

A topographic map of the basin indicates that the lake extends over 5,561 acres when it is staged at 118 ft above NGVD.

Water Elevation Chart


The Minimum Lake Level is the elevation that a lake’s water levels are required to equal or exceed fifty percent of the time on a long-term basis. Based on the availability of the Historic composite water level record for Crooked Lake, the Minimum Level is established at 118.3 feet above NGVD.

The High Minimum Lake Level is the elevation that a lake’s water levels are required to equal or exceed ten percent of the time on a long-term basis. Based on the availability of the Historic composite water level record for Crooked Lake, the High Minimum Lake Level was established at 120.8 feet above NGVD.

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