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Speaker issues water quality call to arms at COTI meeting

By Staff | Apr 1, 2019

Dr. Gary Goforth had an urgent message for islanders at the annual meeting of the Committee of the Islands, held on March 22 at The Community House on Sanibel.

“Water quality is our most pressing issue,” he said. “The state of Florida is guilty of mismanagement of our estuaries. It must refocus its efforts to improve our estuaries.”

Goforth is a leading authority and advocate for water quality in Florida. Former chief consulting engineer for the South Florida Water Management District during its Everglades Construction Project, he now sits on the Florida Oceanographic Society’s board of directors. His keynote address, “From Cradles of Life to Chambers of Death: The Mistreatment of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries,” stressed both the need for rapid improvement and the tangible benefit of water quality on the entire region.

“We are blessed to live within Florida’s bio-diverse landscapes and water systems-like Everglades, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the St. Lucie Estuary,” Goforth said. “As a nation and as a state, we have a deplorable track record in protecting wildlife, the natural environment, and our sea life.”

Goforth called water quality good for the economy.

“The combined assets of the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie provide 27,000 jobs,” he said. “It is a vibrant economic engine.”

Goforth also pointed to Florida’s position as one of the fastest growing states. Its burgeoning population “requires a lot of water,” he said, “but government wastes a billion gallons of water per day.”

Owing to the construction of the “massive” Herbert Hoover Dike, “Lake Okeechobee can’t expand” to accommodate rainwater, Goforth noted.

“When heavy rains come, the lake rises. To protect the area south of the lake, the government sends water to the estuaries. This water is over-enriched with nutrient pollution, especially phosphorus and nitrogen entering the lake,” he said. “There has been no effectiveness in reducing pollution levels.”

Goforth also reported that 2017 recorded the highest amounts of phosphorus in the lake’s history.

“The lake carries, on average five times the amount of phosphorus that the total maximum daily load would allow,” he said.

Addressing the health consequences of polluted water in the estuaries, Goforth listed several disorders that can be attributed to blue-green algae blooms in particular.

“When algae hits saltwater, it releases a toxin that attacks the liver,” he said. “It can cause gastrointestinal problems and liver cancer. It has been linked to ALS, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

“We hope that this information will encourage the Army Corps of Engineers not to send water to the estuaries,” he added.

Goforth called out state and regional leaders for “conscious decisions to pick winners and losers.”

“The estuaries have been picked as losers,” he said. “Every drop of water that goes south is treated in storm water treatment areas. None of the water (going to) our estuaries is treated. Our regions are being sacrificed-our public health, our economy and our environment.”

Goforth provided a menu for improving water quality in the estuaries.

“Send water south every month, including in the dry season,” he said. “Strengthen water quality regulations, strengthen basin management, and strengthen bio-solids management.”

Goforth voiced “cautious optimism” about the future.

“Wonderful changes have occurred in the last six months,” he said. “With the public engaged, a lot of progress can be made. The South Florida Water Management District knows people are watching.”


Outgoing COTI President Mike Miller welcomed to the meeting a capacity crowd, which included Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and the South Florida Water Management District’s new Governing Board chair, former City Councilmember Chauncey Goss.

Among COTI’s list of achievements for the past year, Miller cited supporting the EAA Reservoir construction, opposing the SFWMD’s new minimum flow rule, supporting legislation to reimpose a five-year inspection requirement for septic tanks, advocating against the use of bio-solids as fertilizer in the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee watersheds, advocating for more water quality monitoring stations, opposing the Eden Oak development, supporting a ban on plastic straws, and initiating a proposal to ban fuel-powered leaf blowers.

Miller announced that COTI will donate $5,000 to support the efforts of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge to acquire 68 acres of undeveloped land along Wulfert Road and Sanibel-Captiva Road, known as the Wulfert Bayous.

“This is important,” he said. “This land is the largest unprotected acreage on Sanibel, and development for new house construction has already been permitted. We’re grateful for the Wildlife Society’s efforts working with Lee County to get this land acquired and protected.”


COTI named Nicole McHale its 2019 Citizen of the Year at its meeting.

According to Board Member Barbara Joy Cooley, who presented the award, McHale “is a tireless volunteer and an accomplished and gracious community leader.”

“She has served on the F.I.S.H. advisory board since 2012,” Cooley said. “She is also on the Sanibel Public Library Board, and she co-chaired the campaign that raised funds to redesign and renovate The Community House.”

McHale’s other accomplishments include helping to raise funds for F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva’s new headquarters, developing the annual “Throw F.I.S.H. a Lifeline” campaign to replenish the organization’s food pantry in September, volunteering at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and The Sanibel School, and serving as a mentor for at-risk high school girls.

In expressing her thanks for the recognition, McHale said that the island community “has done so much for our family.”

“I think it is important to give back and help make the community the best it can be. This is the most remarkable community anywhere,” she said. “People come here, because they are very aware and are looking to give back. I am so fortunate to be a part of it. I thank you so much.”


During the formal business part of the meeting, Joyce Craig, Jan Holly, Erhard Joeres, Peter Walcott and Miller were elected to COTI’s new Board of Directors. At a later organizational meeting for the board, the following persons were elected as officers for the 2019-2020 year:

– Chris Andrews as president

– Jan Holly as vice president

– Susan Tucker as treasurer

– Peter Walcott as secretary

For more information, contact Chris Andrews at coti.andrews@gmail.com or visit www.coti.org.