Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

Water Management District has no excuses

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May 27, 2010

Water Management District has no excuses By Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands While many are rightfully very concerned about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill , here on Sanibel we are already being hit by an environmental disaster involving our estuaries and coastal waters . Just as in 2004 and 2005 , massive amounts of polluted fresh water are now being released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee . Just as in 2004 and 2005 , Lake Okeechobee is dangerously full and water must be released from it by the Army Corps of Engineers . The environment committee of the Committee of the Islands remembers that five years ago , the South Florida Water Management District ( SFWMD ) promised Sanibel that it would provide 450,000 acre - feet of temporary water storage – enough to take one foot of water off the Lake – so that the next time we had unusual rains they would not have to force the Corps to release so much damaging water into the Caloosahatchee . We’ve had unusual rains . This unusually wet dry season was predicted last October . Where’s the 450,000 acre - feet of storage ? Good question . There seems to be no good answer forthcoming from the SFWMD . Of the 450,000 acre - feet , the SFWMD claims to have provided 126,350 acre - feet . But much of that storage is not really available now and it is not being used . And none of it is south of the Lake , where we need it to be . Why weren’t contracts with the landowners ready to go , since the SFWMD clearly must have known this 450,000 acre - feet of storage would be needed now ? The SFWMD has no answer . In spite of having the knowledge that this disaster was coming , the SFWMD did not act . Now the Army Corps has no choice . Early in May , huge releases of 4,000 cubic feet per second were made from Lake O into the Caloosahatchee , and we saw the ugly brown Lake water in our bay and even circling around the lighthouse end of the island . As I write this , the releases have lessened only to about 3,000 cubic feet per second . That’s still way too much . And the official rainy season has not yet begun . At risk are our seagrass and oyster beds , fish , scallops and crabs . We’re losing our “ crop ” of sea life . Why isn’t this happening ? Meanwhile , agriculture south of the Lake suffers not at all . In early May , Sarah Heard , a Martin County commissioner , flew over the Everglades Agricultural Area ( EAA ) south of the Lake and noted that the ditches there were all dry . Why doesn’t the EAA share the adversity ? Again , the SFWMD has no good answer for this . Water could be released from the Lake and sent through canals to the southeast and out to tide . Why isn’t this happening ? Sugar cane fields can withstand being flooded for a couple weeks at this time of year without significant damage . Why isn’t this happening ? Again , the SFWMD has no good answers . In noting that agriculture benefits and does not suffer at times like this , John Cassani , a south Florida limnologist ( a scientist who studies fresh water bodies like lakes ) , observed that even during droughts “ Their [ agriculture’s ] influence starves the estuary for water despite a MFL [ minimum flow level ] passed since 2001 . The Caloosahatchee estuary is continually damaged year in and year out as a result . This occurs even when water use restrictions on agriculture are absent . When there is excess [ water ] they refuse to share in any type of resolution or shared adversity . Also , remember they pay nothing for their water ( a public resource ) , have federal price support subsidies , and the public pays for most of their pollution clean - up . This is a scam on the people of Florida of monumental proportions . ” He’s right . Of course the long - term solution is to restore water flow from the Lake to the south , into the Everglades , as Mother Nature intended . An important part of that long - term solution is the purchase of U.S . Sugar Corporation land by the state of Florida . The long - term solution does not help us right now . What would have helped us now would have been if the SFWMD had acted to provide the temporary storage they said they would provide . You can help by keeping the pressure on the governing board of the SFWMD . Their contact information can be found on the web at http : / / www.sfwmd.gov / portal / page / portal / levelthree / governing % 20board You can also help by letting Governor Crist know about your concerns . He appoints the governing board members . His email address is Charlie.Crist @ MyFlorida.com , and phone number is 850 - 488 - 7146 . More information is available from the Committee of the Islands at www.coti.org . Send your input on this important matter to coti @ coti.org .

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