Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency held a informational meeting at the South Florida Water Management District office in Fort Myers to better explain what the state level is doing to protect our waterways. During the meeting, local clean water activists brought the EPA a present of more than 50 dead oyster shells as a way to show the evidence of what we are losing from our waters being deemed unhealthy. During the Lake O discharges last year, 100 percent of our local oyster population was killed off.
My daughter, Willow Bird Heim, and I wanted to make a statement to the EPA from our community by placing each dead oyster one by one on the desks of the EPA reps. The looks on their faces was of sheer shame, while I promised more acts of civil disobedience at every meeting that has anything to do with our water standards and by any agency deemed responsible for our local water woes. Frustration began to build as the EPA admitted to being so short staffed that they cannot keep up with the amount of impaired water ways throughout Florida and asked for the public's help to report them when observed. The EPA also spoke of a list that they have to keep tabs on the ailing waters, which in fact are on their list of critical bodies of water.
Willow was depressed that the leaders are not doing their jobs when it comes to keeping our local waters clean of pollution. She spoke to the local NBC2 media outlet of how this is not right for us "all" and that her "home" being neglected. Many times when posed a question to the EPA about solutions and remedies, the EPA basically looked dumbfounded and answered questions by circling around them as a whole. The water quality activists became frustrated and began to demand action not only from the EPA, yet promised to do it ourselves if they will not. We informed the EPA that the clean water movement is more than 300,000 members strong statewide and that the power of the people will hold them accountable for not doing their jobs as well as promising more rallies and educational forums to be ongoing every month statewide.
Willow Bird Heim speaks to state officials about the need for clean water during regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River.
There was a clear divide between the activists and the state. The activists now have the state's attention. We reminded the EPA that we have been to Tallahassee several times and spoke with our leaders, including Governor Scott's personal aide. We have traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak as activists to Congress, and we have met with local reps such as Lizebeth Beniquesto, Matt Caldwell, Heather Fitzenhagen and many more. We spoke up to show them that we are doing our jobs as citizens and that we demand the same from them as the state. Also while in attendance , we as clean water activists asked the EPA to sign the declaration for clean water provided by the Sierra Club as a state-wide effort to raise awareness and to make the promise to be good stewards of our environment. The EPA refused to sign the pledge I am sad to report. Willow also explained of how there are no more sea life left, such as sand dollars and oysters and the new Lee County record of over 280 reported manatees lost due to water quality. She went on to explain that we will not be able to live here very much longer if something is not done quickly as the water being ill is making humans ill, while tourists will eventually stop coming here to our "home" and that we cannot make it without them vacationing here, which is our driving force financially to be able to live here.
Willow was in attendance as a "River Kid" - a youth Eco arts organization that has been formed on both east and west coasts of Florida to educate our kids of the reality and to get them involved to help protect the environment and to preserve their own futures as young clean water activists. The River Kidz have been to DC, the state capital and many more high-profile meetings to show their own force and voice their own concerns about their futures here in our state. We and our kids are fighting for you and our community and clean water in Florida and to end the neglect to our precious Eco system by the powers that be. We have a saying we use constantly as activists: "If we do nothing then we too are a part of the problem."
We will promise to fight as hard as we can to end this madness. We ask for you too to get involved for clean water as residents.
John. G. Heim is a clean water activist who was recently honored as River Champion by Washintgon D.C.-based American Rivers organization.