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Battle won, fight goes on

By Staff | Nov 7, 2018

Southwest Floridians horrified by this summer’s unprecedented environmental disaster received some good news on the water quality front recently.

Gulf waters off the beaches of Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach saw an abatement of the red tide blooms that resulted in not only massive fish kills, but the deaths of sea turtles, dolphins and manatees by the score.

Also abating is the blue-green algae blooms that slimed the Caloosahatchee and canals in Cape Coral and other communities.

Water quality samples for both red tide and Cyanobacteria are finally showing minimal levels of the algaes that had proliferated to record numbers coast to coast, fed by nutrient-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee here and the St. Lucie River on the east coast.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 23, long-awaited federal legislation to address water quality issues nationwide became law.

President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act, a $6 billion conglomeration of projects including many key to correcting – and so ultimately preventing – the water quality calamity that not only left beaches from Marco Island to Tampa awash with dead sea life but wreaked havoc on our tourism-based economy. The communities of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel suffered an estimated loss of $41 million in the months of July and August alone.

The act advances 68 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects that had been previously approved, including authorization of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir intended to mitigate flows west and east through the rivers by providing storage for Lake O overflow during the rainy season.

The state approved the construction of the reservoir to store and treat water, so it can then flow naturally south, in 2017.

The act also expedites a review of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, or LORS.

The Army Corps must begin an update next year so that accurate data will be available when repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake O are expected to be completed in 2022.

The repairs will enable the lake to safely hold more water; the data will better address flow post-repair.

The act also calls for “a five-year technology demonstration project supporting research into projects that help detect, prevent, reduce, and mitigate the occurrence of harmful algal blooms.”

“…WRDA will allow us to build on the funding successes we have achieved over the last 21 months and provide needed resources to get our water quality fixed,” said Congressman Francis Rooney, who has made water issues a primary focus since taking office two years ago.

“Joined with $206 million recently appropriated by the House, a total of $610 million will be set aside to complete the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs by 2022 instead of the end of the decade,” a release from his office states. “Every year saved completing these repairs is a year that harmful releases into our ecosystem will stop sooner.”

Efforts have led to $115 million being set aside for CERP in the FY2019 budget with a total of nearly $1.1 billion appropriated for dike repairs and CERP projects this fiscal year and next, according to his office.

That’s a lot of state and federal money and it certainly is a victory on the water quality battlefront.

We’re grateful.

But the fight to restore the Everglades and related watersheds is far from over.

Local water quality warriors emphasize that while millions have been allocated, it’s still not full funding for all 68 projects long ago approved in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

We must continue to be vocal.

We must continue to be vigilant.

For our children.

And for the Southwest Florida that will be theirs.

– Reporter editorial