BROOKSVILLE - It used to be a swimming hole.
That was long before Peck Sink became known for something less inviting: debris and litter.
The "Sink," as it is affectionately called by long-time residents, had become a victim of development. All the flotsam and jetsam from businesses and homes built along major highways such as State Road 50 and U.S. 41 found their way into the old watering hole.
It was common to find tires, bottles and other signs of development floating in and near the water. Located on 2,986 acres west of U.S. 41 between Wiscon Road and State Road 50, Peck Sink is a direct pipeline to the Floridan Aquifer - and in its former polluted condition did nothing to filter surface runoff and debris from the groundwater. The Sink receives water from a contributing area of about 25 square miles.
Talks began six years ago about improving conditions at the Sink. Three years ago, county commissioners embarked on a project to restore Peck Sink to as near its former quality as possible.
Despite setbacks, the $2.3 million project is completed and ready to face whatever nature throws at it when the rainy season gets underway this summer.
A diversionary structure called a "bar rack" will direct water flowing toward Peck Sink into a man-made pond. The system will trap debris so it won't harm the Florida aquifer. A series of settling ponds will trap and remove sediments and small debris - including oil and other floating materials - before it reaches the main part of Peck Sink some 900 feet away in woods.
That's what is supposed to happen. But Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins is not convinced.
Adkins opposed spending the money and still believes the Peck Sink diversion structure will not hold up during a heavy rainstorm.
For example, Peck Sink sustained about $60,000 in damage in June 2012 when rains, including Tropical Storm Debby, sloshed through Hernando County, causing extensive damage to some of the berms created to divert water away from the Sink. The storms also eroded one of the embankments.
But that was before the grass along the bank had time to get established.
Adkins said the project might help prevent some pollutants from getting into the ground, but he doubts it will hold up to a major rain event.
"This summer will be the test," Adkins said. "It might hold up under normal situations. But you take these heavy rainstorms; there isn't anything that will make it any better."
But county engineer Mark Guttman said the improvements should work, especially if a recent heavy rainstorm that hit Hernando was any indication. Guttman said he went out at 1 a.m. March 30 to see if the various structures at the site held. They performed as they were supposed to do, he said.
Of course, he said, during sustained heavy rains it still is likely there will be flooding alongside Wiscon Road - just because there are so many low areas there.
"It's a really huge flood basin," Guttman said.
The improvements will stop the Sink from getting clogged, which is the main reason for the project, he said. "We've been out there and we've made sure that everything is good and ready to serve all the stormwater that we'll get during the season," Guttman said.
Because of the importance of the project, county Clerk Don Barbee listed Peck Sink as part of the past year's top accomplishments. The $2.3 million project was funded through a joint venture with the county, state and Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Still, Adkins said it might have been less expensive and more prudent to fence Peck Sink and periodically send crews to clean it.
The man-made structures are "an expensive setup just to cleanse the water," he said.
Adkins said it is difficult to contain the elements, especially in an area that is prone to flooding.
"You can't alter Mother Nature," he said. "That's the problem."
Residents, especially in groups, are invited to tour Peck Sink Preserve. For information call Clay Black, stormwater engineer, at (352) 754-4062