Walton County has applied for a more than $1.2 million grant to help fund a $2.4 million project to remove faulty culverts at two coastal dune lakes.

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Walton County hopes to get the ball rolling in the final steps to plan the restoration of the natural flow at five coastal dune lakes.

However, before the project can gain momentum, a more than $1.2 million grant must be awarded to the county from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation.

If approved, the federal money would be used to help fund a $2.4 million project to remove dilapidated culverts at Deer and Little Redfish lakes, said Melinda Gates, Walton’s coastal resource liaison.

"(Culverts) can reduce down the connectivity of the hydrology of the lake," she said, adding that the county plans to cover the remaining costs. "When that connection is decreased ... it’s less likely that the saline water would actually make it up to the northern end. ... By removing that and connecting it to what it’s more historically like, then you would have more of a flushing ability."

The culverts run under County Highway 30A and connect the northern and southern portions of the lakes. Gates added that similar projects have already been done at Draper and Redfish lakes, with ongoing restoration efforts at Alligator Lake.

She believed the improvements would not only preserve the lakes for future generation, but benefit the habitats of local wildlife populations.

"(Coastal dune lakes) are so unique and only found in few places in the world," she said. "We are the ones who are responsible for making sure that they are protected."

Looking ahead, Gates expected a grant recipient to be announced in a couple months.

She added that the county has already completed permitting and designs for the improvements to Little Redfish Lake, with Deer Lake details still in the works.

"This is a competitive grant," Gates said. "It doesn’t mean that we necessarily get it, but we’re at least in the wheelhouse of the thinking of the reviewers."

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