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Island Dems host water quality update

By Staff | Jul 27, 2016

The best way to solve the water quality problems along the Caloosahatchee River is to store it and send the excess water flow from Lake Okeechobee south, and the only way that will happen is for residents to call their representatives in Tallahassee, or Washington, if need be.

That was the message sent by local water quality experts to a packed house at the Sanibel Public Library as the Democratic Club of the Islands hosted a meeting regarding water quality Thursday.

Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Quality Director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Holly Milbrandt, biologist for the city of Sanibel, and Dr. Bruce Neill, founder and executive director of the Sanibel Sea School, lent their expertise to the subject and answered questions from concerned residents.

Wessel told the story of how once upon a time, the water did flow south to the Everglades. That is, until man decided they wanted to change the land usage to farming.

The result was sending the water east and west, with the excess water flowing into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which during especially rainy periods such as 2016 has had a devastating effect on the ecosystem and on tourism, with areas used to crystal-clear water now seeing water that looks like your morning coffee.

Meanwhile, half of the Everglades has been lost, dried up as the water has stopped flowing in its direction.

Wessel debunked two myths. First stating that much of the water coming down into the area is coming from the 800,000-acre watershed, not from the lake, and that storage of water isn’t going to solve the problem.

“Any rain that falls into those boundaries drains into the river. That’s two Lake Okeechobees,” Wessel said. “We need to recapture the storage we lost and we need a third place to send the water when the lake gets too full. Anything north of the lake is great as it will slow down the flow.”

That hasn’t stopped the problem of brackish water, which was a haven for oysters in the estuaries, being washed into the gulf by the fresh, and often polluted fresh water, which at points this year has flowed all the way into the gulf.

Wessel and Milbrandt used charts, pictures and graphs to paint the picture of what’s happening. Neill just used words, saying the problems now are manmade.

“What we’re here about is climate change. The conditions we’re seeing are changing a lot. We created a system that changed the hydrology of how we move water,” Neill said. “The solution is easy. The problem is we followed Joni Mitchell and paved paradise so the water doesn’t soak into the ground.”

During the Q&A session that followed, Wessel said the best way to get any action is to drive their representatives batty with e-mails and other correspondence, since their inaction is what has caused the problem to fester.

“Under this administration we have rolled back a huge number of protections. Any regulation is seen as anti-business. I believe what we’re doing now is anti-business,” Wessel said. “If you’re engaged, write to the governor. This needs to be a broad revolt, speaking up. If everyone writes those letters, someone has to do something.”

Susan Minaya complimented all three on their presentations, saying she felt much smarter regarding the issue.

“I have more clarity about what’s going on, what the issues are and the challenges we’re facing,” Minaya said. “The public needs to be educated because I think they’re very confused.”