For the last three weeks, East County Water Control District has held a free speaker series to celebrate its 55th anniversary.
The third session in a four-part series, focused on the growth and development of Lehigh Acres' from 1980s to the mid-2000s.
Engineer Bob Howard, discussed the importance of water management during this time in Lehigh Acres history.
The East County Water Control District’s free speaker series. From left to right, Bob Howard, Wayne Daltry, J. Nathan Stout, Lee Commissioner Frank Mann and moderator David Lindsay.
"Historically, Lehigh Acres was a very wet area. Development of the community was coupled with the need to drain the land, and unfortunately this water system drained too well in the early years," Howard said.
He noted that water was seen as a common enemy of the state of Florida until the late 1970s when the focus of water district's changed from drainage districts to water control districts.
As soon the community began to grow, so did the need for water drainage/control systems. ECWCD was created to drain the land. The district and the Lehigh Corporation have a blended history since the same board of directors governed both for many years based on the one-acre-one-vote election rules.
The regulation was changed during Commissioner Frank Mann's time in the legislature.
Mann noted the Lehigh Acres community is one of the last areas still prime for development in Lee County.
The 1980s marked this major shift for ECWCD with the design and construction of stormwater projects like Harns Marsh - a water storage area.
For 55 years, ECWCD has been preserving and protecting water resources through drainage, conservation, mitigation, navigation and water best management practices within 70,000 acres of land in both Lehigh Acres and the western portion of Hendry County.
Today, Harns Marsh serves as a retention area, a lush wildlife habitat and as a community tool for passive recreation.
ECWCD Commissioner J. Nathan Stout shared his views as a business owner, native Floridian and longtime Lehigh resident.
He recalled that in the early stages of Lehigh Acres' development it became known as a prime hunting spot for quail, rabbits and rattlesnakes.
"There were so many roads that led to vast open, land it made hunting very easy," Stout said.
He later moved to Lehigh Acres and took a job as the controller for the hospital, which was at that time known as Lehigh General Hospital, before opening his own accounting firm.
He recalled how the community grew and changed over the years from mom and pop shops to attracting its first big box store, Kmart.
Stout noted, no growth period before was quite like the growth seen between 2000 and 2010.
"During this time, the population of Lehigh Acres grew by more than 200 percent and we saw a shift from a retirement community to a place where young families have come to find opportunity," Stout said.
Rep. Matthew Caldwell will keynote the final session in the series, "Lehigh, A Look Foward," from 1-3 p.m. May 29 at ECWCD's campus, at 601 East County Lane.
He will share insights from the legislature and discuss the future of Lehigh Acres.
Caldwell will be joined by a panel of local government agencies and area utilities to discuss their services and capital/major projects.
The event is made possible in part due to the donations from local businesses, like Mirror Lakes Golf Club and Building Industry Issues of Southwest Florida.
There is no cost to attend the speaker series, but registration is required as seating is limited.
Registration and networking will begin at 12:30 p.m. with the program beginning at 1 p.m.
To reserve a space, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (239) 368-0044, ext. 17.