News-Press

November 16, 2016

Water summit helps identify solutions

Mitch Hutchcraft

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/2016/11/16/water-summit-helps-identify-solutions/93958404/

 

I want to thank The News-Press for hosting the “Save Our Water Market Watch Summit” on Oct. 26 in Fort Myers and bringing together agencies and interested parties who share my passion for getting the water right in our region.

Water is the most valuable natural resource for the 8.1 million residents served by the South Florida Water Management District. We need to listen more to each other and focus on the science rather than getting drawn into slogan fueled political battles and finger pointing.

It was gratifying to be able to share details with those attending the summit about the district’s key restoration projects that will soon bring meaningful benefits to the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the entire west coast. We are well underway to build the C-43 Reservoir that will hold 170,000 acre feet of water to reduce Lake Okeechobeereleases during wet times and ensure the ecosystem has plenty of fresh water during drier times.

The district is also hard at work building the C-43 Water Quality Treatment and Testing Facility that will develop new and effective large-scale techniques for cleaning nitrogen from the river. We have invested in the science and will follow it forward for future water quality restoration results.

These measures to store and clean water and restore natural systems are based on sound scientific analysis. They take into consideration the challenges of the entire system and make cost-effective use of your precious tax dollars. Despite this progress, which was acknowledged by most speakers, it was still disappointing to witness a few speakers continue to fall back on misinformation, slogans and false promises of a quick fix. Their arguments were political, not scientific, with one single-minded result: to redirect momentum and public investment from approved and scheduled projects, in pursuit of a flawed promise of a massive reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

One community activist called the well-established scientific link between septic tanks and high levels of nutrients in our estuaries a “red herring.” Conversely, this well-established fact is backed up by more than a decade of research by Dr. Brian LaPointe of the Harbor Branch Research Center who gave an in-depth presentation explaining the harmful impact of septic tanks on the estuaries at the summit.

Similar claims were also made about the need to invest in more water storage north of Lake Okeechobee, by casting aside scientific research and simply suggesting that storage south of the lake was the only thing that mattered. This misrepresentation was based on quoted figures of the impact on lake releases from northern and southern storage that were not only blatantly incorrect, but also unmoored to any real approved project or planning effort.

This conclusion dismissed the potential benefits of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Planning Project, which will identify 200,000 acre-feet of storage opportunities north of the lake. Additionally, it ignored the fact that the District has already invested billions of dollars to create 300,000 acre feet of storage south of the lake as well as invested in creating storage east and west of the lake in the estuaries. Storage north of the lake is now the missing piece in the regional storage puzzle and necessary to make all the other pieces work effectively.

Slogan shouting and politically-motivated bus tours making false promises is unserious and distracting from real progress in restoring our natural system. The time for making progress on restoration projects publicly and scientifically vetted, such as the C-43 Reservoir and the Central Everglades Planning Project, is upon us. The time for planning northern storage based on science and public input is now. That is how we will ensure our estuaries and the Everglades will be here for our descendants.

Mitch Hutchcraft is a Governing Board Member for theSouth Florida Water Management District.