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SFWMD Governing Board fallout: The fight has just begun

By Staff | Nov 18, 2010

I want to personally thank everyone who showed up to speak to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), and those who wrote letters on behalf of our river and estuary last week as water managers met at FGCU to discuss water flow to the Caloosahatchee.

Although the vote did not support our request, I cannot over emphasize how important it was that the board had a chance to see the faces and hear from the people whose lives and businesses are affected by the condition of our river and estuary.

Our work has just begun! The 4-4 vote failed to support our request for an minimum flow and level for the river (MFL), but be assured that your presence and commitment in speaking up for our resources will be remembered each month as we petition the district to supply a minimum flow of water to the Caloosahatchee estuary. It has also provided the ammunition we will need in demanding that any cut back in water supply be spread between all users and not just imposed upon the Caloosahatchee, as has been their protocol in the past.

We expect the fight for water to be extraordinary this dry season because it is projected to be the driest in 50 years due to a La Nina weather condition. So your presence and support at the meeting was critical and we encourage you to stay involved with letters and emails in the months ahead as this issue continues to be at the center of water management decisions for south Florida.

This issue is about getting the water right by setting the right target flows to support the ecological function of the estuary and prevent harmful algal blooms. It is the unique responsibility of the SFWMD to provide water for and protect natural systems and now is the time for them to step up. Commit to continuing your support to get this done.

• Fight to improve water quality — Compounding the flow issues we face in the Caloosahatchee and estuary are water quality battles brewing with significant implications for our region’s waters.

• Numeric nutrient standards — Last Friday, three of Florida’s elected cabinet members, Governor-elect Scott, Agricultural Commissioner-elect Putnam and Attorney General-elect Bondi joined five incoming Florida legislators to petition EPA to delay finalizing numeric nutrient standards for Florida’s freshwaters, including rivers, lakes and streams. Despite our support and advocacy encouraging EPA to move forward, Monday they announced a 15-month delay in implementation.

The rule would, for the first time, establish standards for nutrient pollution and require sources, including wastewater treatment facilities, septic tanks and runoff from urban and agricultural areas be identified and cleaned up. In their objection Florida’s elected officials cite concerns that it will be too costly and set back Florida’s economic recovery. On the contrary, Florida’s economy is dependent on tourism which is directly linked to a healthy water quality.

While we believe that getting nutrient criteria is a huge step forward, we are disappointed that EPA approved a 15-month delay in implementation of the standards and has allowed waivers to the standards — known as Site Specific Alternative Criteria (SACs) – that allow applications for waivers to the standards.

One thing is certain: Delay will only cause conditions to continue to decline and the costs of cleanup to rise.

For more information on EPA’s rule on numeric nutrient criteria for rivers, lakes and streams, visit http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/upload/floridaprepub.pdf.

• Rollback of septic tank monitoring legislation — Adding to the theme that cleaning up water is too expensive there is legislation being drafted to repeal the septic tank inspection and maintenance program that was passed as part of Senate Bill 550 last year.

SCCF worked hard to get this legislation included in the omnibus water bill which is especially important to water quality in Lee County where septic tanks are densely located in close proximity to ground and surface waters and contribute to nutrient pollution of our waterways.

The legislation required that septic tanks be inspected every five years and repaired if needed. It is not asking too much that we take responsibility to keep septic tanks in working order to protect water resources. The costs to prevent water pollution are minimal compared to the costs associated with cleaning up our rivers and estuaries.

It will take all of us working together to educate our elected officials about water quality. Clean water is our collective responsibility. It is NOT a partisan issue — it is an economic, health, welfare and quality of life issue. Our economy is enhanced and dependent upon clean water. Speak up, demand our right to clean and safe waters.

• Caloosahatchee nomination for Most Endangered River — With all these issues affecting the water quality our river and estuary SCCF is glad to join the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association in support of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s recent nomination of the Caloosahatchee as one of Americas Most Endangered Rivers.