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E-mail friends keep watchful eye on Lake Okeechobee

By Staff | Jul 2, 2010

It is good to have friends and allies; it is good to know we are not alone.

That thought has come to me often lately, especially in my role with the Committee of the Islands. So many people here pitch in to help protect our sanctuary island.

That has been borne out most recently in our efforts to help prevent the brutally polluting effects of Lake Okeechobee water releases on our bay and estuarine habitat. The island press has bloomed with articles about the efforts of City Council and various groups and individuals committed to this task.

I was reminded of all this again on June 16, as I sat at my desk reading the latest “conversation” among my Lake O community of email friends. This is a group of people who have been sharing emailed information, concerns, and ideas about the Lake O water releases for years. 

I had just learned that one among us lost a son to a car accident the previous weekend, and I was struck by the enduring nature of the relationship that we have. We all felt it, as if the victim were a member of our neighborhood, although almost none of us has ever met the young man. We felt the pain of our colleague who suffered that horrible loss, the loss of a child.

This email community began in 2005, when the waters around those of us to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee were suffering from nasty algae blooms that were caused by massive releases of Lake O water in 2004 and 2005. Oyster and sea grass beds, scallops and fish were dying. Some water managers hoped we would never bond; they hoped instead to pit the east against the west, and vice versa. 

Instead, we united. “We” are the community leaders, some local officials, activists and environmentalists who have a common need to be informed about everything having to do with the causes of the polluting releases. We watch Lake O like hawks. We crave information. We provide it to each other, via an ongoing email group that refuses to die. We want to save our estuaries, east and west. We want to send the Lake water to the thirsty Everglades instead.

And in addition to sharing information, we converse about it – every time someone hits the “reply all” button and offers his or her two-cents. That happens often. We learn a lot from each other. Sometimes our “conversations” become slightly heated, because we care.

There are about four dozen of us. We are the kind of people who don’t mind reading 33-page reports and hundreds of news articles that relate to the vexing problem we share.

Send The Water South

In the west, we are empathizing with those who are now seeing toxic blue-green algae re-appear in the St. Lucie River to the east of the Lake. Today, as I write, we are starting to see that blue-green algae coming out of the lock at Moore Haven, into the Caloosahatchee, flowing westward. We all push together for ways to send the water south – all of which seem to be taking way too long.

In the beginning of our community, there were two email lists – I created one on the west, and Ted Guy created one on the east.  Ted and I had slightly different methods for searching for and presenting news articles, commentaries and other information of interest to our groups. 

My initial main goal was to educate and inform local officials, who prior to 2004 did not seem to be very aware of the way the broken water management system worked. We had been, after all, through years of drought when the problems weren’t so apparent.

In the early days, Ted’s group was more focused on activists who were mad as heck, and ready to file a lawsuit. Our groups overlapped – there were east coasters in my group who were also in Ted’s, and west coasters in Ted’s group who were also in mine.

By sometime in 2008, it was clear to me that my goal had been achieved.  Local officials were now all painfully aware of the problem and its causes. There was no need for me to duplicate Ted’s efforts any longer. The die-hards among us remained in Ted’s email group, and I put my Lake O email list of about 50 addresses to rest.  The two email groups merged.

Four Years After Charley

I sent a last email to my group on August 14, 2008 – on the fourth anniversary of the day after Hurricane Charley. Upon hearing that I was ending my email news service, Commissioner Bob Janes wrote, “You have performed an excellent service to us all.” A former Clinton White House official wrote, “Your news clipping service has been such a gift. Thanks for doing this for so long.” Members of the board of the Committee of the Islands wrote to thank me for the service as well. 

Sanibel Natural Resources director Rob Loflin wrote, “Thanks for the info over the last several years!  Your emails were often the first I’d heard of a particular development and very useful in planning strategy and pushing buttons.” A former Sanibel mayor wrote, “You have no idea how extraordinarily useful your clipping service has been. It has served many people working on this issue from many different perspectives; and I know that our jobs would have been much harder without your combing the press. Those of us already occupied more hours than there are in a day really benefited from your service!!”

I gave instructions to my former list members on how to set up Google and Yahoo news alerts to take the place of my service. But Ted’s group continues on.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Ted Guy for continuing the email news service for the die-hards.

We’ve been together in cyberspace for years now, and we show no signs of fading away, just as the perplexing problem of Lake O water going the wrong ways shows no sign of letting up soon. We are scattered across the state, from east to west, and we remain in touch – almost daily. Sometimes some of us see some of the others in the flesh, for example at meetings of the South Florida Water Management District’s various committees.  But mostly we talk via e-mail.

Who are we? We include scientists, leaders of environmental groups, marina owners, lawyers, former elected officials, magazine publishers, boat captains, community activists, realtors, and many more. We are information-hungry people who love our south Florida environment, and we won’t give up. (If you are interested in joining a similar news service, try Eco-voice.org, a public service to facilitate the flow of information about environmental issues and events in South Florida.)

So we – here on Sanibel, in the city government, on the Committee of the Islands, on the other fine groups that seek to protect our environment – have friends and allies across the state advancing our ideas, our causes.

We are not alone.

(Note: If you have ideas or opinions on this subject, Committee of the Islands welcomes your input. Please e-mail it to coti@coti.org. To see other commentary on the Lake O water releases, visit our web site at coti.org.)