Water quality is critical in the islands. That message prevailed April 29 during a post Earth Day celebration at the Jensen’s Marina on Captiva. Local business, environmentalist/policy professionals and concerned locals turned out to urge state lawmakers to purchase vast tracts near Lake Okeechobee. Amendment 1 – allowing funds to be added to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire lands, restore them and manage improvements – received 75 percent approval last November. More than $10 billion could preserve Florida’s wildlife habitat, wetlands and water quality over the amendment’s 20-year life, including the Caloosahatchee River waterway that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Excessive nutrients discharged upstream and feeding into the Gulf can cause algae blooms, red tide, fish kills and manatee deaths when red tide gets into the respiratory system of these endangered mammals. Lee County Health Department officials reported evidence of bacteria in the Caloosahatchee at the end of the summer of 2013 due to repeated high flow discharges. Recreational boating, fishing and swimming were threatened.
“This is the west coast part of a two-coasts event,” Rae Ann Wessel with the Sanibel Captiva Community Foundation said at the marina rally.
Five years ago, U.S. Sugar Corporation agreed via a binding, signed contract to sell 46,000 acres of its land – 26,000 of which is directly south of Lake Okeechobee. Some EAA land could be used as water storage, to allow it to be cleaned of pollutants then flowed south from the lake via Plan 6 to the “river of grass” as it once did, officials said. Locals are demanding from lawmakers funding for the land purchase, prior to an Oct. 12 deadline.