The message was loud and clear from three members of the Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition at an open public forum at Pink Shell Resort on Wednesday -one that was attended by only roughly 30 people.
High flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers are damaging our coastal habitats and water quality to the point where the action will negatively affect not only our ecology but our economy, tourism industry and eventually our health in a devastating way. The problem is water management.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Natural Resources Policy Director Jennifer Hecker and FCOC coordinator Ray Judah made power point presentations about the scientific angles of the impact during the Coastal Estuaries in Peril forum. Afterwards, they heard public comments and answered questions and made pleas for everyone to act now.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida Natural Resources Policy Director Jennifer Hecker goes through her portion of a power point presentation during an open public forum entitled Coastal Estuaries in Peril at Pink Shell Resort last Wednesday.
All three environmentalists are urging state and federal government agencies to implement both short- and long-term solutions to prevent devastation of ecological, economical and overall quality of life. But their voices have been heard, and they plead that all Southwest Floridians take action by contacting state representatives to ask for support of the following federal priorities: fund the 2013 Water Resources Development Act; support a contingency authorization and funding for Central Everglades Planning Project; and fund the bridging of Tamiami Trail through the Everglades.
"We are not trying to say that the sky is falling, but when you can see dolphins and manatees dying, the water is becoming extremely unsafe. That's when we, as a community, are needed to act before we start seeing people become ill," said Hecker. "The problem is becoming so self-evident that you can't hide it anymore. When the visitors can see it and see dead sea life, you can no longer ignore that there is a problem. The situation we are experiencing is intolerable."
"The more voices and the more diverse those voices, the more powerful the message," said Wessel. "Even if it's a quick email to list the priorities, as a taxpayer who lives in this state, you can just say I want you to take these actions."
(Email Gov. Rick Scott at Rick.Scott@myflorida.com and urge him to support the above four priorities.)
It was stated the situation has reached "crisis proportion," yet so many have fallen on "denial" and are "pretending" our waters will eventually clean itself of the present pollution or that the flows will stop soon.
The fact is, while water flows our way were slowed in the recent past, lately they have increased due to all of the rain the lake has received. Town of Fort Myers Beach Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen has been monitoring the situation and stated the water flows have increased in the past couple of weeks . Scientific research shows that anything higher than 4,500 cubic feet per second is harmful to the estuaries, and high flows were up to 10,000 cu ft/s in July. Fast forward to more than three months later.
"Things are not getting fixed the way they should. There are some modest improvements here and there, but they are not going to solve our problem," said Hecker. "Killing the lake is only going to create poor water quality that comes down our river and estuaries in the future. We need to let the public know and understand that (state officials) are going in the wrong direction. The ultimate solution is they have to buy U.S. Sugar lands to put the water back flowing south and where it belongs."
Judah discussed the importance of Plan 6 -the restoration of the historic flow-way in the Everglades Agricultural Area- involving the purchasing of 153,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land and a state purchase option that expires this month for an agreed-upon lower price of $7,400 an acre, before the price dramatically rises. He stated the state should obtain the 20,000 acres from U.S. Sugars through the purchase option, then the remaining land of U.S. Sugar could be used in a land swap with Florida Crystals to be able to finalize the piece of the puzzle for land necessary to convey water to the south.
"The governor has the authority to declare a state of emergency, hold a special session with the Florida legislature, come up with the funding to purchase U.S. Sugar land and have the land necessary for the storage treatment conveyance to the south," said Judah. "The governor needs and should take steps."
Go to www.conservancy.org/ripple-effect to learn more.