Evans, Goss urge pressure on behalf of clean water this summer
Although island waters look good right now and in the forecastable future, water quality management principals, like many local residents and businesses, are nervous about what the summer rainy season will bring.
That was the sense Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Environmental Policy Director James Evans and South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss imparted to the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at its May 12 virtual meeting.
“As we look forward to rainy season, I think it’s going to be critical, as a business community, to continue to put pressure on the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineer, our state and regional representatives,” Evans said.
He acknowledged that U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds is taking up the cause.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we need our state representatives really fighting for us on this issue, because we can’t do it alone and, of course, the business community is probably the most powerful tool we have to make the case for what we need to protect our communities here,” Evans said.
The fact that the lake is measuring 2.51 feet higher than last year at this time is concerning, Sanibel resident Goss said.
“We’ve got to have a place to put that water,” he said. “Nothing’s going out of the St. Lucie (River) right now, and we’re moving water south as much as we can in each of the stormwater treatment areas. But those stormwater treatment areas got so beat up last October and November, and they’re living things. They’re marshes that we don’t want to kill them, because if you kill them, they’re no use to you at all, because basically what they’re supposed to be doing is removing out phosphorus so that we can end up putting that water down into the Everglades … So, we’re trying to rehabilitate them during the dry season.”
Besides the East Coast’s refusal to accept water releases from Lake Okeechobee and problems sending water south right now, Evans pointed out as a deterrent to clean water this summer Gov. Ron DeSantis’ non-response to a request for a state of emergency declaration should the need arise to send water south. All the factors combine to put the Caloosahatchee River and the islands in a vulnerable situation.
“Our position is during the rainy season, we don’t want any lake water either, it’s just that I think the East Coast folks have been more effective at getting that message across,” he said.
Moving water south is the long-term goal of the SFWMD, and Goss outlined the progress of reservoirs, pump stations and other structures that move toward that goal. The first Everglades reservoir, C-44, will be completed in September.
“We’re looking to fill it in September,” he said. “Birds are nesting there now, so we’re not only removing phosphorus, but also creating habitat.”
The largest of the reservoirs, the Everglades Agricultural Area or EAA, has a September 2023 completion incentive date.
“That’s the reason we’re asking the Biden administration for $725 million, to help the Corps to fund this and get it finished,” Goss said.
Evans addressed state funding approvals as a result of the 2021 Florida legislative session to support the reservoirs and other projects, plus other budget items and legislation that will boost water quality and sustainability.
“Water quality issues are certainly, at our chamber government affairs meetings, not something we take lightly,” chamber President and Chief Executive Officer John Lai said. “Our top legislative priorities this year — every one was built around water quality. Going into the rainy season, we definitely won’t take our eyes off of them.”
“We want to thank the chamber and the chamber alliance for adopting priorities that focus on water quality,” Evans said. “It means a lot to us at SCCF and the community of Sanibel, and we look forward to supporting you at the next legislative session.”
“I want to echo what James said and thank the chamber for hosting this and, not only that, but for being so responsible and taking such a leadership role in this issue,” Goss said. “It’s amazing we’re having this conversation with the chamber. I don’t think this would’ve happened 10 or 15 years ago, and I love to see it. When I’m out in the state, people are very aware that Sanibel is a leader in this role.”
Both speakers also thanked Bailey’s General Store for sponsoring the meeting and for all that its team does to support water quality and the community.