News Press

Editorial: We still need to improve water control

December 21, 2009

The news from the Kissimmee River is good for Southwest Florida, but the battle with water managers over what to do with Lake Okeechobee continues.

Either we get too much, as with the devastating releases of high water from the lake after storms in 2004 and 2005, or we are getting too little freshwater to maintain the right salinity in the lower Caloosahatchee and our coastal waters.

Proper salinity is a key to the health of the estuary, a billion-dollar-plus marine nursery and recreational resource.

Southwest Florida's representatives say the system could easily afford to send enough water down the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee to maintain salinity, without shortchanging farms and cities elsewhere in the district.

Lee County commission chairwoman Tammy Hall complained to the South Florida Water Management District recently that not only are the environmental needs of the estuary being neglected, but the district is failing to include Southwest Florida in decision-making that affects us.

"We're not asking anything other than a level playing field," Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah said at a conference with water managers last week in Fort Myers. "It's incumbent on the district to understand the overriding importance of treating environmental releases at the same level as water supply and irrigation purposes."

Other interests have always had more clout with the district than Southwest Florida, and always will.

But there have been improvements from our perspective; more are needed.