FOLKS, THIS WATER SITUATION WILL GET WORSE!
In WATER QUALITY
Jul 25, 2018
Almost any full-time resident of Lee County remembers the water quality woes of these last summers when huge discharges from Lake Okeechobee delivered dark, lifeless water far out into the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophic influx of stained and polluted water also brought complaints from tourists and death to valuable seagrasses and endangered species. This summer is a world beater for the physical results and amounts of displeasure here on the southwest coast. My opinion is that this summer is a preview of years to come as the cumulative results of those discharges have killed the filters our estuary relies on to survive. These poisonous discharges have cumulative effects and we are seeing them daily. We allowed the discharges to kill our estuary a little at a time and now it’s so challenged it may not recover. Once the grass and oysters are gone, the estuary is totally vulnerable because it is without any filter. The discharges have killed the filtering grasses and oysters a little at a time, and now there are almost none left to handle this putrid mess of slop coming down the Caloosahatchee. There is very little grass left and almost no live oysters between the Franklin Locks and the Sanibel Causeway. It will rain again, this year and the next, and all that flow will continue to kill our estuary and that of the St. Lucie. Fresh water is not classified as a pollutant even with the high nutrient content we receive here. Ignoring the nutrients for now, we cannot stand the current rate of influx of fresh water and all those facts have been true for years. That is why we are experiencing the present collapse of our estuary. The Corps of Engineers has no choice at this point but to send about 70% of the Lake Okeechobee outflow downstream on the Caloosahatchee as well as send another 20% east on the St. Lucie River to the Atlantic Ocean. Only about 10% of the water coming out of the lake reaches the historic, natural receiver and filter of its outflow, the Florida Everglades. This unnatural flow is the result of a system constructed in the 1940's to 1960's to drain water off the land just south of the lake. That draining process is extremely well done and it created the Everglades Agricultural Area, about 700,000 acres of mostly farmland. Today we understand the unintended consequences of that short-sighted action, particularly on the natural systems of the west, east and southern estuaries and Everglades National Park. Rehydrating historic wetlands and floodplains, reestablishing storage to hold water on lands throughout the Greater Everglades area and conveyance to provide a more sustainable timing and quality of water are all needed in order to address the shortfalls of the present flood control system. I say we should immediately flood some of the leased land the state owns south of the lake or some of the sugar fields to abate these discharges. Today there is no spillway built into the Lake Okeechobee dam nor are there any plans to build one. Such a spillway must be built and soon. The spillway obviously would be accompanied by easements or land acquisitions to allow the water to "sheet flow" south into the natural filter zone and on into the Everglades. A plan currently in process by the Army Corps and SFWMD, the Central Everglades Planning Project, (CEPP) would provide the first phase of an initial flow way infrastructure to provide an outlet south out of the lake for the first time since the 1930's. One in three Floridians relies on drinking water supplied by sources south of Orlando. Each road, roof, driveway, parking lot, shopping center and impervious cover decreases water recharge of the aquifers and increases stormwater run off. Many southeastern Florida cities presently experience saltwater infiltration in their domestic aquifers and the wells providing their water. Some are considering alternatives such as drilling new wells further inland as an alternative that the city can control. New wells and connecting infrastructure cost about $10 million per well. Wouldn't it be a better use of taxpayer money to re-nourish the Everglades ? We cannot have any significant positive result without involving Big Sugar in the effort as they own much of the land where the flow way will be established. They got this land many years ago and have made billions from it while costing Floridians billions in value of lost opportunities and wildlife deaths. In 1996, Floridians passed a “polluter pays” amendment to the state constitution but it was dramatically softened in its application to Big Sugar. I query why we are not already litigating to protect the infrastructure and life of the many over the privileged few-the sugar industry. It seems to this writer that any condemnation award should be reduced or eliminated to allow recovery for the damages already incurred by the pollution coming downstream. Surely the business and residential interests of the coastal communities can unite in a way that the long-standing political dominance of Big Sugar cannot withstand. The damages incurred by the estuary communities far exceed any positive effect continuing the present situation might have. Tourist dollars dwarf sugar dollars and we need to be sure our elected officials at all levels are aware of this fact. We must ensure that our government works as designed to protect the citizens. In short, our leaders need to lead, not tell us what they cannot do. Unfortunately, the volume of discharges is so great that with the present system no real water treatment can occur prior to impacting the fragile, priceless ecosystems at each end of the rivers receiving the discharges. Luckily, those of us in Lee County have yet to experience some of the fish lesion and growth impacts seen in the St. Lucie-though we have plenty of habitat destruction and fish nursery impacts. Though we hope we never hit the most extreme result, we may be there soon as our estuary dies. The water and discharges must go south! We should have a spillway in Lake O and we must have flow way to the Everglades. Why must we wait to have the fire alarm screaming before we act? Certainly some displacement and relocation of people and structures will be required to construct an appropriate flow way and begin this journey to restoration. When an effort this size is begun, it will have a huge, positive, permanent economic impact on all of South Florida. The east, west and center of the State must appreciate the value and necessity of resolving this impending ecological disaster, on both coasts from the discharges, and in the Everglades being starved of fresh water. Thousands of jobs and economic enhancements for the entire region will result from a comprehensive restoration effort. The relatively few commercial enterprises and individuals displaced will have vast opportunities to better their circumstances when the largest natural water filter is brought back into play to provide drinking water for all of us and our successors. Such an enhancement will also provide all the other tremendous benefits that a healthy Everglades can provide. Jim Collier Cape Coral