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Fight over improved water quality goes to Capitol

By Staff | Jun 10, 2009

The battle to keep local waterways healthy is being fought not only in Lee County, but in the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C.
Rae Ann Wessel, policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, lobbied on four issues directly tied to county waters during a recent trip to the nation’s Capitol.
The issues, including clean energy, sewage, water restoration and the Environmental Protection Agency, were all part of the annual National River Rally, an event that brings together 500 conservationists from across the country.
One of the rally’s main draws is River Action Day, when conservationists and advocates have the chance to directly lobby national leaders.
During the rally, Wessel and her colleagues were able to compare, contrast and discuss problems that all communities seem to have in common.
“We’re all dealing with the same issues. It may be a different form, different name or different impact, but they’re all the same,” she said.
While in Washington, Wessel said she focused heavily on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which proposes a cap and trade system on emissions.
At 900 pages, Wessel admitted the proposed bill is daunting, but focusing on the cap and trade portion might help to reduce carbon emissions as much as 83 percent by 2050.
She added that she is not entirely endorsing the bill, only hoping to work out the details of the complex proposition.
“The reason this is important, especially in Florida, is that we’re susceptible to climate change,” Wessel said. “As close as we live to water, our watershed, rivers and streams are all affected by extremes.”
Concerning the other two bills, the Clean Water Restoration Act and the Sewage Right to Know Act, the sewage bill seems to have the most immediate impact on area waters.
Currently, public notification is not necessary, by law, during sewage leaks. The bill would change that, making sewage spills public knowledge and follow-up investigations to discover the source of a leak mandatory.
Recently, beach closings on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach shed light on the need for public notice and investigations. Sources of the repeated contaminations, especially on Sanibel, have gone undiscovered.
“It really underscores the need for all of us, that these are all basic, fundamental operations for public safety and welfare,” Wessel said.
Though the bills will likely not be voted on until the end of summer, Wessel relished the chance to take part in the National River Rally. She said the opportunity to focus on issues beyond the confines of Lee County were invaluable.
“That’s what’s great about River Action Day, it’s an amazing opportunity,” Wessel said. “If I just worked on issues on Sanibel, we would have no impact on water quality.”
To learn more about the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, visit its Web site at: sccf.org.