March 31, 2017
Buying land south of lake important for Fort Myers Beach
By Jacki Liszak
“Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
We live on a small barrier island, on Fort Myers Beach, surrounded by water. Our water is our lifeblood; it affects every aspect of our lives. Whether we walk on the beach, kayak in Estero Bay, run a tourism based business or are involved in a lodging establishment or restaurant, the quality of the water surrounding us directly correlates to our quality of life.
One year ago, we were inundated by rainfall in record levels that pushed Lake Okeechobee’s water to the brink of the levee. The result was the release of millions of gallons of polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River. For weeks the water flowed east and west into our estuaries, coastal waterways and shorelines.
The result, as we are all aware, was devastating. The state of emergency declared by Gov. Rick Scott and the massive destruction of our estuaries became national news. The blackish-brown line of dirty, polluted water emptying into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean was visible from the ground and from the air, and it was heartbreaking.
One year later, last year’s rains have not repeated themselves, and the weather has remained cool and clear. Unfortunately, the effect of last year is still hovering over us and affecting the economy on our island. Hotel bookings were down in January and continue to be inconsistent, restaurants have open tables, and visitors are still asking, “How is the water?”
So what should we do? There is solution before the legislature right now, a science-based solution supported by more than 61 environmental organizations. It would direct state water managers to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee and begin constructing a reservoir to hold 120 billion gallons of water. If approved, this plan would set into motion a crucial piece of the Everglades restoration that was conceptualized over 16 years ago. We need to do this sooner rather than later; it could happen during the current legislative session, if, we put enough pressure on our representatives to send clean water south.
The reservoir is not a new idea but rather one of the 68 projects authorized in CERP by Congress in 2000. Proponents say the reservoir will curtail a cycle of freshwater discharges to the Indian River and Caloosahatchee estuaries. At the same time, the reservoir would serve to refresh historical water supply needs for Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
Supporters have stated, “People who care about fishing, the Everglades and Florida’s nature-based economy need to get behind this critical legislation.” The Everglades Coalition is “calling on all members of the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott to support this smart and appropriate bill to tackle one of the biggest threats to our state’s water.” Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom said, “Let’s mobilize to get this bill passed."
Currently, project planning for the reservoir is set to begin in 2021. We need to ask our legislators to move the time frame up in response to the prolonged state of emergency in 2016. “Send clean water south” is our rallying cry – please consider adding your voice. You can do so with the click of a button at www.SendCleanWaterSouth.org.
There is a groundswell of support for our natural resources and for Everglades restoration. We should recognize that as stewards and advocates of clean water, changes in water management policies are necessary. Our water is the lifeblood of our community and its quality directly affects not only our island and its tourism based economy but all of us in the State of Florida.
Water, water everywhere... IT’S TIME TO GET INVOLVED!
Jacki Liszak is president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and owner of The Sea Gypsy Inn.