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Calling all Caloosahatchee advocates

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

It was tremendous to see an overflow crowd with many new faces at the Caloosahatchee Forum hosted by the News-Press two weeks ago. Next week will provide an opportunity to learn even more about how the river’s water is managed and to speak out on behalf of our river and estuary.

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board will hold their monthly meeting in Fort Myers at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). One of the issues on their agenda, minimum flow and levels (MFL), directly affects the health of the Caloosahatchee and our region’s $3 billion economy.

The MFL is designed to assure that minimum flows of freshwater are provided to the river and estuary during the annual dry season and droughts to prevent significant harm to the aquatic ecosystem. Significant harm is caused by lack of, or insufficient, freshwater flow to balance the salinity of the water to protect seagrass, tapegrass and oyster habitats. These habitats are critical to the survival of our native species of fish, shrimp and crabs.

The Caloosahatchee has already experienced losses. Lack of flow during the drought of 2001 resulted in the loss of over 300 acres of tapegrass habitat. In the drought of 2008, the SFWMD cut off all flow to the Caloosahatchee, causing a toxic algae bloom upstream of the W.P. Franklin Lock that resulted in the shutdown of the Olga Water Treatment Plant. What we know is that insufficient freshwater flow has caused algae blooms every year the river has been cut off or when insufficient water has been provided.

In addition, by allocating too little water to the natural system, the District can allocate more water to other users at the expense of the natural system.

Next week the Governing Board will discuss and vote on whether to proceed with a five year update of the minimum flow and level — as required by their own rule — to help prevent recurring algal blooms and devastating impacts to tapegrass habitat. Unfortunately, District staff has recommended against updating the standard, even though their own studies recognize the current flow standard of 300 cfs (cubic feet per second) is too low. In fact, numerous District publications use a revised higher flow standard of 450 cfs.

The timing of this decision is significant. A La Nina weather condition has the upcoming dry season forecast as the driest in 50 years, which will challenge water supply planning and increase competition for water allocation. The Caloosahatchee needs its fair share of water to support our critical resources.

Now is the time for Caloosahatchee citizens to come to the aid of their river!

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the FGCU Student Union Ballroom. The MFL issue will be heard at 1 p.m. and public comment will be taken at the meeting. We hope to see you there.