Water pact is win-win for all of Lee County, including islands
Lee County residents who have demanded action on water quality issues got some action on the local front on Sept. 17.
After more than six years of effort and negotiations that included the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers have reached an accord that would mitigate the discharge of 6 to 11 million gallons of treated wastewater into the Caloosahatchee every day.
According to the terms of the 30-year pact approved by the Fort Myers City Council on Sept. 4 and the Cape Coral City Council on Sept. 17, Cape Coral will purchase effluent Fort Myers is currently discharging into the river.
This will come at a cost to utility ratepayers of both communities.
The Cape will spend an estimated $15 million, some of which has already been offset by a near $800,000 grant, to build a pipeline across the Caloosahatchee to acquire the reclaimed water that then will be available for irrigation use here in the city.
Cape Coral will pay 95 cents per 1,000 gallons of water to be used for irrigation purposes to start, an initial sticking point as Fort Myers had hoped for $2 per.
The direct benefit to city utility customers – and the Cape as a whole?
The effluent purchase will reduce the need to use water intended for household use for lawns and landscaping during the dry season and times of drought. Supplemental irrigation water has carried a total tab of $1.7 million since November 2016 alone – and that is with watering restrictions in place.
The city of Cape Coral also will get environmental “credits” from the state for “removing nutrient loading from the river.” Those credits can then be used for other projects, officials said.
The city of Fort Myers, meanwhile, will spend $24 million to upgrade its wastewater plant so it can produce reclaimable water and will build the pump station needed to deliver it.
Fort Myers expects to receive an initial $1.2 million to $2.4 million per year for the water it sells. There will be no additional cost to its utility ratepayers.
If things progress as expected, the improvements will be completed by Jan. 15, 2023.
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson calls the agreement a milestone.
Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello calls it a win/win for both cities.
For those of us who care about water quality throughout Southwest Florida, it is indeed both.
Watershed nutrients – local watershed nutrients – have been among the issues of concern expressed by regional scientists and water quality experts who blame more than Lake Okeechobee for our current water quality woes.
For all of us here in Lee County – and, indeed Southwest Florida – reuse, and a higher standard of treatment for Fort Myers’ effluent, is certainly to be preferred over discharges, even if the water going into the river “meets standards.”
This interlocal agreement may have taken more time than either side wanted but we agree, it’s win-win – and win – for residents on both sides of the bridge as well as for our Gulf, bays and local waterways, the responsibility for which we all do indeed share.
– Reporter editorial