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Rotary Happenings: Water quality remains a hot topic at Rotary meeting

By Staff | Apr 6, 2016

Well this isn’t really Breaking News but somewhat in a regular pattern the water quality in San Carlos Bay and our Gulf Waters is the focus of local news outlets.

But there are many environmental agencies and organizations along with a plethora of local government officials that are studying and monitoring the water quality of these areas constantly and have been lobbying in Tallahassee and Congress for a resolution for this chronic problem.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary invited Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director, Rae Ann Wessel, to speak at Rotary recently about Water Policy Management and Concerns.

Wessel had a power-point presentation showing a few graphics the most impressive being the historic flow of fresh water through Florida starting at Shingle Creek and estuaries to the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, south through the Everglades marsh to the flats of Florida Bay and Ten-Thousand Islands; this being named the River of Grass.

Starting in Labelle the water would take 6 to 8 months traveling through the flat plains and 16 months to travel to the bottom of the peninsula enriching these areas for many species of wildlife to grow and flourish.

But as always progress, catastrophes, and politics changed the course of that water flow.

There were many reasons from development and farming to hurricane disasters and floods. But ultimately back in the late 1930s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was charged with developing a plan for diversion of high levels of excess water in Lake O through a series of channels, gates, and levees be sent east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River; clearing the path for development of Everglades land.

But at what cost?

Over a good many years there has been recognition that the diverted fresh water releases from Lake O into the Caloosahatchee River have and are causing major environmental harm to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River waters.

And although the old saying is “What’s done, is done”, there is another old saying, “Don’t mess with Mother Nature”. Many of our environmental organizations and some government officials are working toward a solution, that solution is complicated and with many moving parts.

There are a number of things that are involved in restoring the watershed toward a more natural flow through the everglades – create surface water storage reservoirs, create water preserve areas, manage Lake Okeechobee as an ecological resource, improve water deliveries to estuaries, increase underground water storage, construct treatment wetlands, improve water delivery, remove barriers to sheetflow, store water in quarries and reuse wastewater, and increase underground water storage -Wikipedia.

Recent Lake O water releases have brought this vital matter to the forefront again.

As Rae Ann explained last fall the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) predicted that a strong El Nino was forecast for the months ahead producing heavy rains that would bring the level of water in Lake O to dangerous levels.

Lake O is a shallow water basin and the ideal depth of water in the Lake is 12.5 feet, possibly to 15 feet but beyond that the there is a danger of a breech in the Herbert Hoover Dike.

Early this year the Lake level exceeded 16 feet necessitating heavy water-releases into the Caloosahatchee causing undue strain to the environmental conditions in the River flushing unhealthy river water down to San Carlos Bay and Gulf Waters destroying seagrass habitants and spawning areas .

As Wessel said, “this causes a magnitude of harm to our ecological system with the potential to last for years”. This is not only an environmental problem but also an economic concern for South West, Florida.

There are a lot of proactive organizations working together to monitor the situation and educating government officials in Tallahassee and Washington but ultimately this problem can only be solved by government involvement.

Many government agencies and departments must work together on this project and monies slated for Everglades Restoration must be spent judiciously on this essential project.

The dependency of the human element on Planet Earth is a profoundly personal relationship with Mother Nature. – Wes Adamson. “Time waits for no man” – Mother Nature.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., Friday mornings at the Dunes Gulf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. Visitors are always welcomed.