October 17, 2016
Water messages of significance
The News-Press editorial board has focused on water – its past, its present, its future, its quality, or lack of it - for several years.
Over the past year, the board has met with representatives of U.S. Sugar, Alico, the South Florida Water Management District, scientists and environmentalists, like those at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, elected government officials and other community stakeholders. We have documented their words and offered our opinion on Everglades restoration efforts, the harmful water flowing from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and its estuary. From 1,000 feet in the air, we have witnessed the various projects designed to store, treat and disperse water to help improve and regulate what flows into and from the lake, into the Everglades and Florida Bay.
We have seen and written about the vastness of Lake Okeechobee, the continuing work there to reinforce the Herbert Hoover Dike and build a series of new culverts, but also realizing its sheer size – the second largest freshwater lake in the contiguous 48 states at 730 square miles – makes any project to clean our water, limit what flows into the Caloosahatchee or keep focused on moving more water south, an immense undertaking.
Daily, we hear the accusations of how U.S. Sugar is to blame for our polluted water, how our elected local and state leaders are cowering to their land interests and to the farming communities in order to receive election campaign donations and putting our waterways in even more peril. We listen and report on those who say the water management district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are mismanaging lake discharges, leading to the pollution, algae blooms and costing Southwest Florida thousands of dollars in lost tourism and business.
We have read and discussed and reported on the problems and solutions detailed in the comprehensive 143-page University of Florida Water Institute Report on our water crisis. This document appears to be the go-to guide for everyone associated with water, because of its thoroughness, objectivity and the fact it was prepared by knowledgeable scientists.
All of this has helped build the foundation for what we believe will be one of the most comprehensive programs on water ever assembled, featuring experts from across the state gathered for the first Save our Water Market Watch summit hosted by The News-Press. The six-hour event is Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Sanibel Harbor Marriott Resort and Spa and will draw over 400 people.
This event continues an exploration into our water quality problems and solutions, creating an impact and action steps that last well beyond what is discussed on this day.
Our speakers represent agricultural and land interests, the science behind why we are in a water crisis and what can be done to solve it, those who work daily to bring awareness to the importance of preservation, and how communities, tourism and business are impacted.
This is a complicated environmental puzzle – one that requires finishing current water storage, treatment and restoration projects. It involves several environmental plans, including framed mandates set forth in the Central Everglades Restoration Program and the Central Everglades Planning Project. It involves money, and plenty of it, with approximately $8 billion in state and federal money needed to complete current projects and begin new ones. The Legacy Florida Act, passed this year by the state legislature, will help, providing $200 million annually for the various projects through Amendment 1 money.
The ultimate goals: clean and disperse the water north before it reaches Lake Okeechobee, reduce bad water flows into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, continue building 1 million acre feet of storage and treatment areas and continue to move water south where it is needed for the Everglades and Florida Bay.
Although the goals may be similar, how each of the people and groups represented at the summit achieve them is different.
South Florida Water Management District
The district says the north is the “missing piece of the regional storage puzzle.” Northern storage lags behind other projects in the state as only about 25,500 acres, holding water about one feet deep, has been completed or is planned. The west has completed 170,000, with 1,000 planned; the south 228,000 completed or under way and 82,000 planned and the east – 63,000 completed or underway and 98,000 planned.
The benefits, they say, are treatment areas that reduce the harmful nutrients flowing into the lake. About 92 percent of the phosphorous flows and 87 percent of the nitrogen enter the lake from the north, the district says. The district also believes the storage provides flexibility for water releases into the Caloosahatchee and its estuary during the dry season.
One of the jewel's of the district's projects is the $800 million restoration of the Kissimmee River. This project entailed back filling the channelized river, returning water flow to its original meandering state and restoring the natural flood plain over what had been farmland. The district also announced this week that it would start holding about 100,000 acre feet of water in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to only help fill the floodplain during dry season, but also reduce the flow of water into Lake O.
What the district says is needed and what can be done through federal and state funding is a different matter. Currently, $3.6 billion is invested in projects completed or underway but another $3.3 billion is needed for future projects.
Lee County Natural Resources
What’s happening locally with other crucial waterways is just as important. The county has committed $37.2 million to water quality projects, including the 20-acre filter marsh at Powell Creek Preserve, the filter marsh and sheet flow restoration on a 307-acre parcel on Popash Creek Preserve, the meandering flow way at Lakes Park and hydrology restoration on the Deep Lagoon Preserve. Most of the county’s water quality projects also include nutrient load reductions into the watershed.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The group is pushing for more storage in the Caloosahatchee basin, including the Caloosahatchee Reservoir (C-43) project, which has a target date of 2021 to finish the first phase and once completed could hold 55 billion gallons of water; more flow south of Lake O, water treatment areas north and south of the lake revisiting Lake O distribution protocols.
As do many environmental groups, the conservancy wants the state to acquire more land in the Everglades Agricultural area to store and treat water and funding for the USEPA/DEP Water Quality Plan to build additional water treatment areas.
The conservancy also believes U.S. Sugar is responsible for much of the pollution and calls for the company to stop “pollution at its source,” meaning any polluted water that flows from pipes into waterways.
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
A big concern is the pollutants (pesticides, herbicides, road way oil and grease) that flow into the Caloosahatchee estuary from surface water run off, mainly from canals and drainage ditches, resulting in abnormally high algae blooms, and leading to the killing of seagrass, tape grass, oyster beds and scallops. The SCCF laboratory already has projects underway to restore sea grass and tape grass and replenish oyster beds.
The SCCF advocates replacement of septic systems, route rain to fallow farmlands and pastures, fertilizer minimization, livestock fencing and manure management.
SAVE OUR WATER
What: The News-Press Media Group is hosting an educational and experiential summit focusing on the water quality crisis in Southwest Florida. Experts from around the region and state will speak on a variety of topics, a moderated panel representing agriculture, tourism, business and real estate will discuss the economic impacts, and we will unveil five unique water-themed experiences so the learning can continue beyond the summit.
When: Wednesday, Oct. 26, noon-6 p.m.
Where: Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa
Tickets: LImited number of tickets available. Go to news-press.com/saveourwater
Coverage: You can follow live coverage of the event on news-press.com and more coverage in The News-Press
Twitter: Join the conversation that day using #saveourwater
Special Page: newspr.es/SaveOurWater
Line up of speakers:http://newspr.es/SOW