Keeping a Watchful Eye on Water Quality

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(By Kim Ryan) On Wednesday the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce held its monthly business lunch at the Marriott Sanibel Harbor Resort and Spa. The meeting included an initial presentation by Sanibel Kiwanis incoming President Jeff Blackman, followed by the awarding of 20 Kiwanis scholarships to students totaling $47,500. The speakers at the event were SCCF CEO James Evans and Captains For Clean Water Executive Director Dan Andrews. They gave an update on water quality post Hurricane Ian.

Evans provided a brief explanation of the many things SCCF does in the pursuit of protecting and caring for coastal ecosystems with land acquisition and preservation topping the list of 8.

SCCF has acquired over 2000 acres around the islands, Fort Myers, Pine Island Sound, and Cape Coral. Evans also discussed how the quality of local waterways are impacted, not only by releases from Lake O, but also the large watershed which is close to a million acres and extends from the mouth of the Caloosahatchee west to the lake. Evans said this watershed “collects the nutrients that drive HAB-harmful algal blooms.”

Evans went on to inform the audience that 100% of the flows out of the lake are coming west and that Lake O is currently sitting at just over 14 ft.  “That’s not where we want to be for this time of year. We’d much rather be closer to 12-12.5 ft.” He also showed an image of the 420 square mile blue green algae bloom currently on the lake. Evans cautioned about the potential for “discharges in massive volumes” if we were to get a storm that subsequently raises the Lake well over 15ft.

Evans encouraged everyone to closely watch the situation and pointed to resources, like their water conditions tracker. This is an easy way to read and understand the extensive data collected. You can subscribe here.

Andrews provided information on legislative issues affecting water quality and passionately urged continued advocacy and unity when fighting for clean water and supporting Everglades restoration. “We’re fighting one of the largest lobbies in the state of Florida. The industrial sugar industry pumps $10 million dollars into every election cycle and their interest is to keep the lake as high as possible to use for irrigation”.

Andrews recalled last year’s veto of SB 2508 by Governor DeSantis saying “it’s a testament to the resilience and tenacity of this group of people (and others) who fought against bad policies that sought to undermine key projects.”

He also highlighted the new LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual) which although delayed in its implementation should go into effect in 6 months and will provide a 37% decrease in flows to our area.

In regards to Everglades restoration Andrews said “We’re headed in the right direction but until those projects are built and being operated correctly, we are nowhere close to the finish line.”  He called upon everyone to continue to stay involved, informed, and focus on long term long lasting solutions.

Kim can be reached by e-mail at kimandjillian@gmail.com

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