winter-haven-w help-circle
WH paddle boarding couple
Public Works

Natural Resources

The Natural Resources Division, part of the City’s Public Works Department, is responsible for ensuring Winter Haven’s natural resources are clean and healthy. As a City with 50 lakes bordering or within our limits, a key part of that goal is to protect water resources, including water quality and quantity for our lakes and natural systems.

Staff is constantly working to balance the requirements of state and federal regulations with the needs and desires of the community. This is achieved through a broad range of projects and initiatives. The Division is guided by the mission of collecting & providing sound scientific data and using it to drive the decision-making process for projects that will provide the most impact.

Who We Are

Background – Our Watershed

Winter Haven is at the headwaters of both the Peace River watershed and the Floridan Aquifer. This means that the only water available for both public water supply and lakes comes from rainfall. Because the lakes are interconnected with the aquifer, the health of groundwater resources and lakes is of paramount concern. The past 100 years has focused on water as a waste product, but now we realize that water resources are interconnected and all aspects of water have to be managed as one system.

Map image showing flow-ways of Winter Haven lakes, including the Chain of Lakes, which drain into the Peace River through the Wahneta canal and the Peace Creek discharge at Lake Hamilton

Winter Haven Lake Flowways and Peace Watershed. Click for enlarged image

There are 50 lakes that are located either within or adjacent to City boundaries that cover an estimated 5,200 acres. There are two connected chains of lakes; the Northern Chain has 9 lakes and the Southern Chain has 16. In addition, there are 13 interior lakes, which are not connected via navigable canals to the Chain but which contribute to the water of the region, which flows to the Peace River and eventually out to Charlotte Harbor.

Most lakes in Winter Haven are ‘solution lakes’, which means that they formed in the same manner as sinkholes form – through the dissolution of limestone and the eventual collapse of the overlying land surface.

Our Role

Winter Haven is known as “The Chain of Lakes City”. This arose out of a Vision by Design initiative beginning in the year 2000 by the Chamber of Commerce which prioritized our water resources as a benefit to our economy, culture, and environment.

For many of our residents, our lakes are a prized resource providing recreation and enjoyment of natural scenery and wildlife. Together with the community, the Natural Resources Division works to ensure that our lakes, and their hydrological and ecological systems, are managed responsibly going into the future.

To this end, the Sustainable Water Resource Management Plan was developed in 2010 as a long-term planning approach to water resource management in our region, taking into account water supply, quality, flooding and natural lake systems. This plan was a collaborative effort with the public and outside partner organizations, governmental and private. It outlines an approach to restoring the hydrology of our lake systems, considering the history of drainage and discharge practices which have altered lake levels and impacted water quality. The goal of the plan is to guide proper resource planning to ensure enough water is available for all uses, including people, industry, agriculture, and the environment.

Click the links below to review the full contents of the plan. A summary document is provided at the top of the list.

What We Do

  • Water Quality & Aquatic vegetation monitoring

The Natural Resources Division consistently maps & surveys area lakes to ensure access to up-to-date data on lake vegetation to inform management decisions. These surveys also provide a wealth of additional data which help keep staff informed on the unique character of our many lakes and how they are changing over time. In addition, regular surveys help to efficiently and responsibly manage invasive and nuisance vegetation.

To view Bathymetry maps (showing detailed depths and fishing holes in each lake) of our lakes produced from these surveys click here. Individual bathymetry maps are available and can be printed from our Lakes web map application.

Additionally, staff closely monitors lake water quality on a quarterly basis based off of sampling performed by Polk County Natural Resources Division. For more information on lake water quality please visit Our Lakes Page.

  • NPDES Reporting & Stormwater Infrastructure Management

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) report is a federal requirement that arose from the Clean Water Act managed through the FDEP. Its goal is to regulate discharge into public water bodies and reduce the amount of pollutant discharged. To ensure compliance, data on stormwater infrastructure, public outreach, and Best Management Practices (BMPs) is collected and updated annually.

Staff also takes an involved role that goes above and beyond compliance by ensuring stormwater systems are managed effectively. This is achieved by maintaining a complete inventory of stormwater pipes and outfalls to prioritize efficient maintenance, as well as through the establishment of Low Impact Development (LID) stormwater solutions such as rain gardens (see below).

  • Urban Forestry

Trees are a key natural resource that can help improve property values for the community, incentivize commercial development, reduce A/C costs, reduce stormwater runoff and flooding, and provide valuable habitat. Urban forestry is the practices and policies which care for public trees. The division takes an active role in working with the Urban Forest Advisory Board to ensure these resources are managed effectively.

Infographic depicting the benefits of trees given away as part of the Arbor Day event. These include reduced storm runoff, reduced carbon dioxide emissions, increased canopy cover, property values, and reduction in electricity bills.

A key element of this is the annual Arbor Day Celebration and Giveaway, hosted in partnership with the Forest Service and UF/IFAS Polk County Extension, which works to educate & involve the community in the urban forest. Native, Florida-Friendly trees are selected for their specific benefits to our forest’s needs and given away to residents in conjunction with brief lessons on selection, planting, and maintenance. Celebrations are typically held on Florida’s Arbor Day, in late January. To see a graphic depicting local forest diversity and total Arbor Day plantings click here

  • Rain Gardens, Nature Parks, and GSI Implementation

A key tenet of the Division’s values is to provide solutions that benefit the economy and community as well as the environment.

Photo of South Lake Howard Nature Park in Winter Haven, Florida

South Lake Howard Nature Park

The City currently has three nature parks, with a fourth in development, which demonstrate this. These parks provide recreational opportunities for the community, beautify the cityscape, and help slow & treat stormwater run-off before they enter our lakes. To see a map showing nature parks and their drainage basins (the area from which runoff is caught within the park) click here

Photo of a Rain Garden on Ave A NW, Winter Haven, FL.

A rain garden on Ave A NW

Rain gardens are another Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) practice that improves water quality and quantity. They work by directing rainfall to a small infiltration area designed to absorb rainfall through several soil layers to eventually infiltrate into the Florida Aquifer (where we get the majority of our drinking water). >>Click the image to the left to go on a virtual tour of the City’s rain gardens<<

  • Outreach 

The division also provides multiple opportunities to engage with the public and provide education & outreach on our natural systems and resources. These include participation with our Parks, Recreation & Culture department to provide kayaking lessons, watershed education, and boating tours to summer youth camps, as well as offering kayaking lessons & nature tours at special events throughout the year. Upcoming special events will be announced on the City’s news feed.

Photo of two kayakers recreating on Lake Silver during the 2011 Rocking Freedom Festival.

Kayaking at Rockin’ Freedom Fest 2011

Stay up-to-date on local Natural Resources news & events – follow us on the social media links below!
Image linking to division's Instagram page


Dustin Everitt
Natural Resources Manager
Devon Moore
Senior Environmental Scientist
Mary Thornhill
Natural Resources Specialist
Savannah Winstanley
Ecosystem & Asset Analyst