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Evans, Wessel propose water management plan

By Staff | Aug 4, 2010

A seven-page analysis outlining the inequities between different stakeholders within the Southwest Florida Water Management District Service Area, prepared by James Evans and Rae Ann Wessel, was introduced by Vice Mayor Mick Denham during Tuesday’s City Council meeting discussions of current water management issues.

"I would like the community at large to get upset with how we are being treated," said Denham, a message he has reiterated at several public meetings since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) initiated a high-volume pulse relrease of water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River on July 12.

In their report, Evans, a member of the City of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, and Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), they detail the inequities in the management of water for the Lower West Coast Service Area, as compared with other regions within the Southwest Florida Water Management District Service Area.

"There is a fundamental policy bias used by the District that favors permitted water users at the expense of natural systems," the analysis stated. "For years, water release inequities pitted one natural system against another i.e. Lake O vs. estuaries or east coast vs. west coast estuaries. In more recent years, we have strived — and succeeded — in working together with various stakeholders to focus the issue on the policy of managing water for the natural system and permitted water consumers. The current re-evaluation of the adaptive protocol process has brought this policy issue into focus and we need to continue to push for equity in water supply for natural systems."

Evans and Wessel identified four issues most responsible for creating inequities for the Caloosahatchee, including high flows, low glows, reduced investment in infrastructure of the western basin and reduced investment in services provided to the Caloosahatchee.

The document also suggests 10 potential ways to resolve the current inequities. They include establishing and publishing a process for shared adversity during high flow periods which incorporates management measures for the estuaries, committing to completing a statutory reservation for the Caloosahatchee by 2011, enforcing water use permit limits during dry seasons and drought and aggressively pursing and implementing distributed water storage opportunities within the Caloosahatchee watershed as well as north and south of Lake Okeechobee.

Also during the meeting, Dr. Rob Loflin, director of  the city’s Department of Natural Resources, noted that the USACE is currently releasing 2,000 cfs from the lake, an amount he called "manageable." He and Denham have tentatively scheduled a meeting with them on Sept. 3, during which Sanibel’s concerns for high-volume pulse releases will be discussed.