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Council adopts water quality initiatives

By Staff | Feb 24, 2016

The Sanibel City Council met for the first time since the Lake Okeechobee discharge event tainted the pristine waters surrounding the island and they voted on adapting a two-point initiative plan in their monthly meeting Feb. 16.

Mayor Kevin Ruane joined the meeting via teleconference after attending to a family emergency in North Carolina and led discussions offering for the City Council to support the initiatives, which will also be up for discussion and vote by other City Councils in Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach.

The decision to support the initiatives also comes at the heels of Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation of moving the Lake Okeechobee’s water south into the Everglades National Park.

“Our prayers and our voices have been heard,” Mayor Ruane stated in a press release addressing the unprecedented move of sending Lake “O”s water south.

The water moving south into the Everglades passes through a reservoir, which will clean the water. In the past, this type of release to the south has only been permitted following hurricanes and tropical storms.

The current relase of water to the south is the first made in typically dry season and required the cooperation of many federal agencies.

With the present “fix” of sending the water south in play, it still doesn’t address future needs of preventing an event like this from happening again.

“We need to look at lands for water storage,” Ruane said. “But there is a united front here with all the mayors in the area.”

In a one page initiative list, there are four options of water quality relief for the present.

The first is initiating discharges from Lake “O” to the 700,000 acres of agricultural lands south of the Lake and all other public and private lands in the Caloosahatchee watershed.

The second is utilize emergency storage within the Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee basins.

Maximizing storage within the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and provide adaptive flexibility for water level management in the regulation schedules to allow more water storage is the third point of emphasis.

The final point is to seek emergency temporary deviations from federal and state water quality criteria and restrictions which limit discharges south into the Everglades during extreme wet conditions.

Ruane also noted the City’s White Paper plan already lays out a comprehensive strategy for long term relief inside the Caloosahatchee watershed.

In the White Paper, the top priorities include:

n Moving water south: 1. Central Everglades Planning Project with needs federal authorization and funding which will move approximately 210,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake “O” and also adress the damaging flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

n Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir: Having the Army of Engineers Corp and the SFWMD reexamine implementation of the the EAA. This would increase water storage by nearly 360,000 acre-feet, which is 20-25-percent of total storage needed south of Lake “O”.

n Land acquisition: Acquiring land south of the Lake is necessary for the EAA Resevoir, by using Amendment 1 funding to build the storage needed in the Caloosahatchee watershed.

The second initiative includes improving on the Caloosahatchee Watershed storage project. In 2005, the SFWMD promied to provide the needed 450,000 acre-feet of storage for the Caloosahatchee.

Since then, only one project is underway and still has four years to complete and will only provide 38-percent of the needed storage. Pressing the SFWMD to honor its commitments will be important to achieving this initiative, Ruane said.

“We are also bringing a coalition to Washington D.C. and talking to the Corp about this,” Ruane said. “Other (City Councils) have looked to Sanibel for direction and we need to provide it. Getting cooperation from the Feds will be a big challenge in all of this.”

Ruane also said there are competing interests from communities around Lake Okeechobee, which rely heavily on crop farming, and the west coast, which has strong roots in the fishing industry.

“The competing interests here are crops versus fishing,” Ruane said. “We need cooperation and we need to (co-exist) with the east coast, as well, because we both have a shared adversity with this problem.”

Councilman Chauncey Goss included Sanibel needs to maintain our “backyard”, as well, since others are looking here for direction.

“We need to be as pristine as possible in our own backyard,” Goss said. “We need to be great stewards in our own backyard and champion in what we do.”

Vice Mayor Mick Denham was voted to take on the local upkeep and make up lists for other communities to gain some direction in being environmentally friendly.

“We don’t want to be preachy, but we can indicate to others things we are doing,” Denham said. “I can help communicate with other mayors of what we are doing here to keeping our backyard clean.”

The topic of traffic, with the City putting up signs and live cameras, was put on hold for the near future.

“Water issues have been the main job lately,” said City Manager Judie Zimomra.