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PURRE turns its focus to Caloosahatchee Watershed

By Staff | Nov 3, 2009

The PURRE Water Coalition is re-focusing its attention back to the local level at which it began in 2005. At the same time, PURRE will continue to monitor progress achieved at the state and federal levels on the remediation and permanent improvement of water quality in South Florida.

“It’s time to focus our efforts on our own backyard, the Caloosahatchee watershed and estuary, particularly in Lee County,” said PURRE Chairman Michael Valiquette. “The Lee County basin is being assaulted by sewer outlets dumping beyond allowable levels and by unfiltered storm water runoff. It is PURRE’s intention to bring these issues back to the public arena for open discussions with various county and city leaders.”

In 2005, dead fish, sea grass and thick white scum coated the waters of the canal behind Michael and Maureen Valiquette’s house on Sanibel Island, prompting them to seek the source and cause of the problem. As they educated themselves about water quality and the factors that were compromising it, they discovered a myriad of problems and started speaking out. They raised awareness of the problems locally by holding an educational forum at BIG Arts on Sanibel. Shortly afterward, with the help of some dedicated citizens and island non-profits, the PURRE Water Coalition was formed. Since then much has been accomplished in the quest to improve water quality and change the bad practices and policies that cause it.

“A lot of work remains, but we have to look at our successes,” Michael Valiquette said. “Four years ago, PURRE presented the Army Corps of Engineers with a 10-point paper we called PURRE Water Coalition’s Solutions to the Pollution. It covered everything from the need for storm water treatment areas along our rivers to widening existing flow canals to the south, to changing the schedule for releasing water from Lake Okeechobee. Remarkably, the Corps has been and continues to address every one of the 10 points in that proposal. The fact that the Army Corps paid attention showed they were admitting a major problem required good, practical solutions. They knew people were now paying attention and bad policies needed to be corrected.”

One of the main goals of PURRE’s Solutions to the Pollution paper was to find practical ways to move Lake Okeechobee water south to southern sheet flow as nature intended. The state of Florida’s purchase of U.S. Sugar lands is under way, obtaining land over which water can flow south from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades and ultimately into Florida Bay. This is a major success story for Florida’s water quality.

“We’re gratified that our private discussions with Gov. Charlie Crist and many other decision makers in government and policy-making agencies, together with the efforts of so many other groups and individuals, were a force for positive change for water quality in the state of Florida,” Valiquette said. “We see improvement.”

Meanwhile, back where PURRE began at the Valiquette’s canal, the birds and fish are coming back and the scum has pretty much disappeared.

“PURRE is monitoring water flows from the lake daily, and we will continue to watch state and federal issues vigilantly,” Michael Valiquette said. “Our original mission was and still is to raise public awareness. Now we’re going to make sure everyone knows the where, why, how and who of the sewer overflow and storm water runoff problems polluting our basin right here in Lee County. We’re going to do what PURRE has always done best: get the word out, meet with policy makers, educate the public, go to podiums with as many people as we can, and get things done.”