County officials vow water quality diligence
As local water quality issues have seemed to slow, county officials are not taking their foot off the gas when it comes to mitigation efforts in Lee County.
The Horizon Council met on Nov. 16 at Hodges University for a general membership meeting and a Lee County Water Quality Panel Discussion, highlighted by Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais, Lee County Natural Resource Director Roland Ottolini and Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Director Tamara Pigott.
The Horizon Council is a public-private board to advise the Lee County Board of County Commissioners on economic development issues.
“We’re in that time of year where the blue-green algae has mostly dissipated – cooler temperatures, cooler water – makes for a much better environment,” Desjarlais said. “The red tide is off-shore right now. Prevailing winds are now more easterly than they were. The beaches look great, the river looks great, but we have to remember that it could be back next year.”
County officials broke down their efforts on continuing to mitigate the water-quality issues in the forms of public education, projects and regulation.
Public education includes fertilizer ordinances, pet waste education, maintained septic tanks and source control cost-effective approach.
“It’s really important for homeowners to understand and abide by the fertilizer ordinance,” Desjarlais said.
The projects conducted by the county identified the most impaired waterbodies through sampling and testing.
They used Conservation 20/20 and park parcels adjacent to impaired creeks and streams for treatment.
The county has spent $25 million since 2009 with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, providing up to 50 percent cost share on qualified projects.
Regulation includes development of the South Florida Water Management District storm-water, agricultural practices and FDEP water quality criteria.
The completion of Everglades restoration projects, which the state has allocated money for year after year, is what will cement clean water for Florida, officials said.
The issue is the money coming from a federal level, as these projects were agreed to be split 50/50 between state and federal entities.
“We have to continue to press congress to fully fund all of the projects in the Everglades restoration program,” Desjarlais said.
He is hopeful that they will get the funding they need, especially after the summer Southwest Florida water endured.
“There’s a lot more attention being paid to these projects after this past summer’s crisis,” he said. “We’ve got one member of congress in particular who’s pressing hard on our behalf and will continue to lobby the state and federal government.”
“We need to champion (these projects),” Ottolini added. “Some are so far behind.”
Pigott articulated that Lee County’s economy always seems to recover despite past crises in the area.
“We always bounce back,” she said.
Efforts such as the #OneLee campaign and the Island Hopper Songwriter Fest have helped some of the businesses in the area, and the Visitor & Convention Bureau plans to take action through crisis communications, public relations strategies and paid media to make the area a destination once again.
The issue of our water will continue to be at the top of the list for the county, and will not soon be forgotten, Desjarlais said.
“This will be one of the absolute top priorities for the county, not just next year, but for a lot of years to come,” he said.