Local officials blast SFWMD over state of Caloosahatchee River
Environmental groups and local elected officials blasted the South Florida Water Management District Thursday, claiming the district’s preference of “big sugar” over Southwest Florida has upset the natural balance of the Caloosahatchee River and put millions of tourist dollars at risk.
SFWMD has mismanaged the region’s water, according to Kurt Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, as it releases too much water during the rainy season and not enough when it’s dry.
This has led, in part, to recent record drought conditions, Fordham said.
“These are all man-made problems that have to do with poor water management,” he said added.
SFWMD representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said he can see the poor state of the Caloosahatchee River from his back door, living on the river in Alva.
Thousands of dead clams litter the waters behind his home, he said.
Fresh water is being pumped out of Lake Okeechobee in the east, down the St. Lucie River and south toward the large agricultural tracts of land that lie on the Everglades northern edge.
Those releases to the south are serving only the needs of sugar producers, he said, while Lee County suffers.
“We need the fresh water releases and we need them now,” Mann demanded.
Lee Visitor and Convention Bureau Director Tamara Pigott said there were 50,000 “critical” jobs in Lee County that surround the tourism industry in some way.
Pigott added that $2.5 billion in tourist dollars were pumped into the local economy last year. And as the region’s lifeblood, Southwest Florida would suffer if the water quality were damaged beyond repair.
“We offer an experience like nowhere else in Florida,” Pigott said.
Fordham said the next step is to meet with SFWMD board members to try and raise awareness for the region.
Mann pleaded with the water management district to have fresh water pumped down the Caloosahatchee.
“This river is sick and it’s dying,” he added.