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Cape water quality forum draws vocal residents

By Staff | Jul 18, 2018

A fiery group gathered in Cape Coral Tuesday night to voice their views on the water quality and algal bloom issues that have captured the attention of all Southwest Florida residents.

A panel of experts from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Captains for Clean Water and Calusa Waterkeeper educated a packed house in the Cape Coral Yacht Club Ballroom about why their water has turned slime green.

Subjects at the forum jointly hosted by The Caloosahatchee Marching and Chowder Society Sailing Club ranged from concerns about harmful algal blooms, to finding a solution to water flow from Lake Okeechobee and what government and policy makers need to do.

“Our fix is by following the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan,” said panel member Eric Milbrandt, marine laboratory director for SCCF.

“What we’re talking about here is the whole southern half of the state. It’s a project we need the federal government to be involved in. No state agency, no municipality, can operate in that kind of jurisdiction. So we’re trusting that the federal government does what it needs to do – big infrastructure projects.”

The restoration plan, signed into law in 2000, has a 35-plus year timeline, is designed to somewhat restore the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south towards the Everglades and is the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

Talks of a reservoir being build south of Lake O was a popular topic amongst those in attendance.

“It will decrease the volume and frequency of discharges between 40 and 60 percent,” Milbrandt said. “That will make it so that instead of being twice over the ecological harm threshold that’s considered high (it) will bring us right to that threshold and we’ll be operating within a reasonable flow.”

The downside is the reservoir will take eight to 10 years to be built.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do you part to help the cause, no matter how small it may be, officials said.

“In the short term, people can regulate their fertilizer application to their lawns, pick up their pet waste, plant native trees and, as much as possible, try and decrease the amount off run-off that goes off their property,” Milbrandt said.

Captain Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water really connected with the audience and broke down how this is not a science or engineering problem, but a massive restoration project.

He explained the importance of reversing the flow of water back to its most natural way, which would provide a road map to fix the issue.

Wittman said the biggest projects with the biggest benefits need to be attacked first.

“We’re working to fix the issues for our kids and grandkids; this is going to be a long process,” he said.

Wittman urged residents to keep themselves educated and not buy into false ideas or solutions you may see, as well as to not get complacent when the water is beautiful, that the public needs to be there through the good and bad times.

The Captains for Clean Water website – captainsforcleanwater.org – has a “Take to Action” page where in a matter of seconds, the public can contact local politician to share concerns of water quality.

The more people that make noise to lawmakers – specifically the right ones – the better the outcome will be he preached, those in attendance stressed.

These are sentiments also shared by Milbrandt.

“We need to make sure our politicians are as educated as we are on the issue. When we vote for them, we need to make sure that on their platforms, they’re talking about water quality with some substance. Not just put water quality on their platform. They need to understand the issues. They need to understand that algae blooms are not going away and they continue to be a problem for our businesses and ecology,” he said.

Captain David Menist, owner of Florida’s Son Fishing Charters, is one whose business has been hurt by the algal blooms.

Menist spoke during the Q & A portion of the evening, declaring his anger about the situation and that more and more people need to be involved.

“I’ve lost $30,000 since June 1 in cancellations,” he said.

But more importantly, he’s lost his love – the water – and is heartbroken for his son who he can’t enjoy it with.

“I have a 9 year-old son that I want to have grow up the same way that I did, simple as that,” he said. “I grew up on the water. Fishing, getting shells, and going to the beaches and just living the Florida life that we all are here for; every single one of us are here for that. You take away that, what do we have to offer? People don’t come for anything but the water.”

He believes the answer is eminent domain.

“We need to take the land back and we have to push the water south, end of story.”

Menist lives on the Bimini Canal and said his lifestyle has been turned on it’s head because of the blooms.

“We get up, get in the water, and go,” he said of his usual morning routine.

“That’s not how it goes any more… we can’t go in the water, that’s it.”

Many other residents who turned up articulated their varying opinions to the panel who did their best to provide answers.

Only time will tell if Southwest Floridians can find the right pieces to the puzzle and protect its water, economy and population.