TAVARES — Like a fortune-teller poring over leaves in a tea cup, Sandi Hanlon-Breuer studies the worms and insect larvae living in the bottom of lakes to see the future.
The Lake County Water Authority biologist has a giant collection of creepy-crawlers she has culled from the bottom of two of Central Florida’s biggest lake systems, the Clermont and Harris chains, during the past year.
They tell her what has been going on in the lakes and offer clues about whether they should continue to stay healthy. It’s all part of a biological checkup of the two chains — the latest weapon the environmental scientists can use to protect water quality.
If the lake is healthy and has good water quality, the samples will have relatively few bugs to pick through. But the healthy lakes usually have a wide diversity of species — often including larvae of mayflies, caddisflies and dragonflies in addition to snails, crayfish, leeches and other species.
Lakes with poor water quality tend to be home mostly to aquatic worms and midge larvae and have little diversity.
It’s not a job for the squeamish.
Most of the bugs are dead by the time she gets around to studying them, but a few are still moving.
“You get some that are still crawling around, and that’s a problem,” said Hanlon-Breuer, who has a master’s degree in lake science. “This isn’t anything I learned in college.”
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