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Water woes forum set for Wednesday

By Staff | Sep 19, 2013

Environmental champion Ray Judah will be accompanied by three scientists for an informative “truth” session during an open public forum entitled Coastal Estuaries in Peril at Pink Shell Resort on Wednesday, Sept. 25. A reception begins at 5:30 p.m. and the forum runs from 6 p.m. to 7:30.

Judah, who will moderate the session, will be joined by Greg Rawl, a geologist and vice chairman of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council; Rae Ann Wessel, a marine scientist and Natural Resource Policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; Jennifer Hecker, Natural Resources Policy director for Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The forum will provide information from the scientific point of view about the economic and environmental impact suffered since high flow regulatory freshwater releases were discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and consequently along Southwest Florida beachfronts and saltwater estuaries.

“People will have the opportunity to hear the truth and to receive the hard science behind what needs to be done to properly manage Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades Restoration,” he said. “This is not just about the excessive amount of fresh water released. Its also about the nutrient loading of our estuaries that lead to fish kills, red tide and algae blooms.”

The former Lee County commissioner stated Rawl has an in-depth understanding of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by chart tracking. The two natural resource officials are seasoned veterans who will provide information about the polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee.

“Greg will provide charts and graphs to help people understand that correlation because there is a direct nexus between nutrients and harmful algae blooms,” said Judah. “Rae Ann will focus on conditions of the river and also talk about the impact on the volume and rate of flow. Jennifer will focus on nutrients and the broader picture involving the numeric nutrient criteria that the state has advocated their responsibility in assuring their compliance with the Clean Water Act for years, but only recently is attempting to comply under Federal consent order.”

Judah will discuss the reality of some of the proposed programs, such as the Central Everglades Planning Project.

“CEPP is a good first step to restoring the Everglades because it involves several components like the joint partnership between Florida and the U.S. Department of Interior to fund 2.6 miles of bridging on the Tamiami Trail,” he said. “CEPP also is involved in the removal of a levee that has separated what is known as Water Conservation Area 3 and 3B, which will enhance flow south to the Everglades once they restore and bring part of that levee back to natural grade.”

Numbers will be presented to show that Gov. Rick Scott “embellished his recent statement” about alleviating the adverse impacts from the massive release of water from Lake Okeechobee on the estuaries on the east and west coast of Florida

“Once completed, the entire CEPP program will actually pull approximately 210 acre feet off of Lake Okeechobee by directing that water to the south,” said Judah. “The bulk of the water that will flow past the restored levee and the bridging under Tamiami Trail comes from the agricultural area (drainage from the sugar fields) itself. To put that in perspective, only 210 acre feet with the completion of the CEPP program comes from the lake. I’ve dubbed it the 10 percent solution. It will not address the problems that we are experiencing with the massive releases from Lake Okeechobee.”

An acre foot is the equivalent of water one foot deep over an acre.

Judah stated he will reiterate the importance of Plan 6 -the restoration of the historic flow-way in the Everglades Agricultural Area- in a smaller scale. This plan involves the purchasing of 153,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land and a state purchase option that expires in October for an overall price of $1.132 billion.

“The portion of the option that expires is an agreed-upon price of $7,400 an acre,” he said. “After October, the state can still buy the land but the price will dramatically increase, and the state will have to compete with other potential buyers.”

For plan 6 to work and restore flow-ways to the Everglades, more land must be obtained for storage, water treatment and conveyance, said Judah. Directly to the south of the southern area of Lake O, there are 20,000 acres of U.S Sugar land between Miami Canal and North New River Canal and 30,000 acres of Florida Crystals land.

“The breakdown is what is only needed is 50,000 acres of privately owned land to make this work,” said Judah. “If we would obtain the 20,000 acres from U.S. Sugar through the purchase option, then the remaining land of U.S. Sugar could be used in a land swap with Florida Crystals to be able to finalize the piece of the puzzle for land necessary to convey water to the south.”

At a recent forum, the Judah questioned the Army Corps why the Herbert Hoover Dam does not have a spillway and, instead, uses the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers as its release valve. He cites his belief of an influence that U.S. Sugar industry has on certain groups as a determining factor.

“Every other reservoir in America that has a dam around it has a spillway for the very important reason to prevent dike failure and to maintain integrity of the dam. Yet, in this particular instance, the Army Corps has not incorporated a spillway while they renovate and strengthen this particular dike,” he said. “The Corps will need to seriously consider a spillway to do pulse releases to the south. This influence on the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers prevents the logical, appropriate reasonable design of the restoration of the Herbert Hoover dike with a spillway and a flow-way to the south.

Judah believes Gov. Scott should declare a state of emergency. Tourists have shortened or cancelled vacation times on both Florida coasts due to water quality reasons.

“The governor has the ability and legitimate legal justification to declare a state of emergency because of the environmental and economic impact that has ravaged the east and west coat of Florida,” he said.

While weekly tests on water quality at various local beaches have shown no threats, Judah said he spoke to Lee County Health Department Director Dr. Judith Hartner last week about water quality in the Caloosahatchee River and proposed public health concerns.

“She said that they are starting to see evidence of bacteria in the river. What will follow will no doubt be public health warnings for people not to come in contact with the water,” said Judah. “Now that we have all these excessive nutrients in our water, we are going to see algae blooms, red tide and fish kills from now until March. We are also going to see manatee deaths when the red tide gets into the respiratory system of (these mammals).”

Judah sees a difference in behavior between both Florida coasts.

“The west coast unlike the east coast is not nearly as mobilized in demanding meaningful action from the governor and legislature,” he said. “On the east coast, you have the river coalition working with the business community. This side of the state really needs to come to grips with the fact of what is happening with the very foundation of our tourism-based economy and our real estate industry.

“No one wants to come to an area whether to visit or to live where you have dirty water that leads to a decline in fisheries, impairment and enjoyment of use of the water whether it is fishing, boating or swimming. These issues need to be addressed quickly.

“The solutions are there. What still remains is the political will to carry out the necessary projects to stop the polluted water discharge from Lake Okeechobee.”