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Guest Commentary: Action is needed now to save the Caloosahatchee and Everglades

By Staff | Mar 25, 2015

With the beginning of a new legislative session, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and conservation partners are urging legislators to take advantage of a historic opportunity to buy land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), located south of Lake Okeechobee to support Everglades restoration and redirect harmfully high flows that are destroying the Caloosahatchee River and estuaries.

Why Southwest Florida needs the State to buy land in the EAA

EAA land is in a strategic location, just south of Lake Okeechobee, which makes it absolutely necessary for any realistic solution to redirect, store and convey water to Southwest Florida and into the Everglades.

Enormous amounts of polluted water are forced from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River, instead of to the south where it should naturally flow. To stop the harmfully contaminated water discharges that are destroying the Caloosahatchee, killing our wildlife and dumping pollutants on to our beaches, more land is needed south of Lake Okeechobee to provide an alternate path to store and treat our water.

Timing is critical

Purchasing this land now makes good business sense. The State of Florida must appropriate the funds to purchase the lands in the EAA currently under option by May 1 or it will miss the October 12 deadline to finalize the purchase at the agreed upon price.

This land is being eyed for expanded mining and development, so it may never be cheaper or available again.

This land is essential to any permanent solution for restoring the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades.

Why take a risk of losing this opportunity for the permanent solution we’ve been waiting decades for?

Why wait and pay more for something we know we need now? Purchasing the land now while we know we have the opportunity to do so and at a relatively low price is in the best interest of Florida taxpayers.

The missing piece of the puzzle for fixing the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades

For Southwest Florida two projects must be funded to fully realize improved water quality:

1)The purchase of at least 26, 1000 acres of EAA land currently under option south of Lake Okeechobee.

2)Building the C-43 Reservoir to the west of Lake O, near LaBelle. This reservoir will store and cleanse water before it is released down the Caloosahatchee and onto our shores.

We commend the state’s support and stated commitment to fund the C-43 Reservoir, which is vitally important for providing water to the Caloosahatchee during dry periods when it is receiving too little flow.

However, without the EAA land, we will never be able to redirect the harmfully high flows that are also destroying the Caloosahatchee; therefore, this purchase is vital to a healthy Caloosahatchee River and Estuary.

The State’s purchase of EAA lands is the missing piece to restoring the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee. It works together with existing Everglades projects and we absolutely need both if we are to be successful.

What needs to be done

The Governor needs to direct the state water management agency for our region to immediately initiate appraisals to know the fair market value of the land.

Without that, the legislators cannot know how much to appropriate before the end of legislative session May 1st. The state legislators need to fund the purchase, either through using funds available from the passage of Amendment 1 or bonding as has been done for other state land purchases.

What you can do to help

Our state leaders need to hear from you right away. Please visit www.conservancy.org/policy/alert/everglades-agricultural-area to write a quick email to the governor and legislators asking them to make good on their promise to restore our waters and the Everglades through the purchase of this land.

The state needs to act now. Without this land, the other Everglades restoration projects cannot work together to produce the collective benefit intended and needed. Furthermore, the Caloosahatchee will be doomed to continue to receive devastating high discharges that pollute, kill its aquatic life, and contribute to unsightly harmful algae blooms dangerous to our wildlife and public health.

About the Conservancy’s Water Work

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has a long history monitoring and protecting our water, including the first landmark Naples Bay study conducted in 1979.

Water quality monitoring and research are still large parts of the work we do. Throughout the five-county region, we work with planners and decision-makers to ensure they are educated on the that stringent water management tools and best practices are in place, utilized and enforced across the region, and that they base their decisions on best-available science.

For information about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, call 239-262-0304 or visit www.conservancy.org.

– Robert Moher is the President and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida