The City Council continues to keep water quality at the forefront with approving a resolution to support Senate Bill 10 and House Bill 761, as well as sending letters to the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers regarding freshwater releases.
The letters requested supplemental freshwater release from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee to maintain salinity within the estuary below the MFL harm threshold.
The letter stated that "for more than nine months in 2016, the Caloosahatchee Estuary received damaging high freshwater flows from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee watershed. These flows impacted oysters, seagrasses and other marine species, darkened Lee County's coastal waters, and deposited larger nutrient loads in the estuary, San Carlos Bay, Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. These releases affected not only the ecology of our region, but also had subsequent economic impacts on tourism and real estate values."
The letter further stated that "after enduring months of high-flow discharges, we are now experiencing the opposite problem. The Caloosahatchee is not receiving enough freshwater flow to maintain salinities below the MFL harm threshold. If salinity within the upper estuary averages more than 10 practical salinity units for more than 30 days, or if the daily salinity exceeds 20 PSU, estuarine biota such as tapegrass, oysters and nursery areas for gamefifsh and other species are adversely impacted. Data collected at the SFWMD Fort Myers monitoring station indicate that salinities have exceeded the 30-day moving average of 10 PSU since Jan. 1, 2017."
The council also approved a resolution to support Senate Bill 10 and House Bill 761 "directing the South Florida Management District to begin land acquisition, planning and design for the Everglades Agricultural Area storage reservoir project to reduce the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries."
Director of Natural Resources James Evans said Tuesday, March 7, Lake Okeechobee elevation was 13.24 feet with lake levels 2.44 feet lower than it was this time last year. He said hopefully they will go into the summer with the lake at an appropriate level, so they do not have high discharges like they experienced this year.
Due to the extremely dry conditions throughout the Caloosahatchee Basin between January and March, the fresh water discharges were actually not enough to meet the minimum flow level. Evans said they experienced a minimum flow level violation for 57 days where the salinity exceeded the target for the upper estuary.
"That had some impacts on upper estuary tapegrass and oysters down the stream and lower estuaries," Evans said.
With higher flows this past week, the salinity levels are now below the levels required in the estuary.
Evans also touched upon red tide concentrations during last week's meeting. He said Charlotte Harbor and coastal waters in Lee County range between not present and very low.
"We have not had any impacts reported on Sanibel, or any Lee County beaches in the past month. That's good," Evans said.
The water clarity throughout San Carlos Bay and Sanibel beaches is really nice right now, he said.
The Natural Resource Department will launch a project, Community Lakes Best Management Practices Program, formerly called Sanibel Community for Clean Water this month. The website will launch at the end of the month as an interactive tool to help property owners on how to use best management practices on reducing phosphorus and nitrogen loading in communities.