homepage logo

Editorial | Caloosahatchee Connect: Win-win project complete

By Staff | Jan 26, 2024

In February 2022, The Breeze heralded on these pages the commencement of a joint project between the cities of Fort Myers and Cape Coral that had been years in the making.

That project was Caloosahatchee Connect, a plan to construct an underwater pipeline to bring treated wastewater from Fort Myers to Cape Coral where it would be used for irrigation and to replenish city canals instead of being discharged into the river.

On Jan.11, just shy of two years later, the completion of the engineering wonder — one of the longest pipelines of its type — was celebrated with the traditional dignitary-studded ribbon-cutting here in the Cape.

“This is a project that will help both our cities many years into the future. The work of those in the past enables us to cut this ribbon today,” Cape Coral Mayor Gunter said. “It helps the city of Cape Coral with irrigation and maintain our freshwater canals because we won’t have to draw from that water source.”

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Henderson took a similar view, adding it is important for everyone to get together and work to save the environment.

“It’s great to have this partnership with the city of Cape Coral with this project and many others,” Mayor Henderson said. “With 78 people a day moving to Lee County, we have to pull together and this is a prime example.”

Some history:

In September 2018, after six years of back-and-forth, on-again-off-again negotiations that also involved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the two cities reached a 30-year water pact hailed by both sides.

Randy Henderson, then mayor of Fort Myers, called the agreement a milestone.

The late Joe Coviello, then mayor of Cape Coral, called the deal a win/win for both cities.

And clean water advocates on both sides of the river that runs between the communities said it was about time that a way had been found to reduce wastewater discharges into the Caloosahatchee while also providing for its reuse.

The now competed Caloosahatchee Connect pipeline will do two things.

One, it will allow the city of Fort Myers to meet a state mandate that required the municipality to reduce its discharges into the river by January 2023. Two, it will provide the Cape with additional water suitable for irrigation and to help maintain levels in the city’s freshwater canals.

The multimillion-dollar project will send up to 12 million gallons of “reclaimed water” — highly treated, odorless and colorless wastewater — from the city of Fort Myers to Cape Coral via a 7,600-foot transmission main that will be the largest and longest of its type in the country.

Construction entailed the use of horizontal directional drilling, allowing the 30-inch pipeline to be installed without any disturbance to the river bottom or harm to the environment, officials said.

To receive the water, Cape Coral installed a 22-inch pipeline from its Everest Water Reclamation Facility to the river at Horton Park.

The pipeline runs under the river to San Marcos Avenue south of the Midpoint Bridge on the Fort Myers side, and then to the city’s South Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The project cost the city of Fort Myers $62 million and includes upgrades to its wastewater plant so it can produce the reclaimed water it will now sell to the city of Cape Coral as well as the pump station needed to deliver it.

Fort Myers expects to receive an initial $1.2 million to $2.4 million per year for the water it sells to the Cape. The city received grant money from FDEP to help offset its portion of the costs.

In Cape Coral, the cost was about $22 million, with about $12 million paid for with grants from public agencies, officials said at the ribbon cutting.

We are among those who have heralded the project since its proposal.

It has our continued support for the same reasons:

Watershed nutrients — local watershed nutrients — have been among the issues of concern expressed by regional scientists and water quality experts who blame more than Lake Okeechobee for Southwest Florida’s water quality woes.

Reuse, and a higher standard of treatment for Fort Myers’ effluent, is certainly to be preferred over discharges, even if the water going into the river “meets standards.”

This interlocal agreement may have taken more time than either side wanted, but we agree, it is win-win and win — for residents on both sides of the bridge as well as for our Gulf, bays and local waterways.

As we have stated before on these pages, it also is good to see, as the project’s promo states, “Two Cities Working Together” for the betterment of both.

Breeze editorial