homepage logo

Guest opinion: Challenge the status quo

By Staff | Dec 11, 2015

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane’s recent commentary “The Facts about Water Quality” issued a challenge to “any advocate to come to the table and propose an alternative approach that addresses both the high- and low-flow challenges in the Caloosahatchee.”

I accept the challenge!

Mayor Ruane portrays to know the facts concerning restoration of the Caloosahatchee and our coastal estuaries. In fact, he represents the status quo of policy makers at the local and state level that have ignored or failed to understand the water budget in the Lake Okeechobee watershed to responsibly manage the quality and quantity of water in our south Florida environment.

The Central South Florida Flood Control project model used as the basis for Everglades restoration under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is seriously flawed because the model incorporated data collected from a historic 30-year dry cycle in Florida, from 1965 to 1995. The South Florida Water Management District underestimated the need for water storage to restore the Everglades. An evaluation of the water budget for Lake Okeechobee, including inflow, rainfall and evaporation reveals a need for an additional one million acre feet (AF) (325 billion gallons) of storage during the wet season in excess of the 900,000 AF of water storage in the planned reservoirs, including C-43, under (CERP).

The C-43 reservoir was promoted as an Acceler8 project in CERP to alleviate excessive releases of water from Lake Okeechobee. C-43 is designed to only store 170,000 AF of water (55 billion gallons or less than 5 inches off Lake Okeechobee) and is now being touted as beneficial to provide dry-season flows. Unfortunately, the C-43 reservoir does not include a water quality component, and will serve as an incubator for bacteria and toxic blue-green algae that is creating public health concerns in the Caloosahatchee. Heavy nutrient loading of phosphorus and nitrogen, warm water, and limited circulation in the reservoir creates an optimum environment for harmful bacteria and algae.

Mayor Ruane refers to the Caloosahatchee Watershed Regional Water Management Issues White Paper as the document “to align all of our local stakeholders so we can advocate with one voice to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of freshwater water reaching our coast.” The Mayor is recommending that the west coast stakeholders support the expenditure of approximately $1 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to construct a reservoir that will not alleviate excessive wet season flows from Lake Okeechobee and with no water quality component to prevent the release of harmful bacteria and algae to our coastal estuaries.

There is no credible peer reviewed cost benefit analysis comparing CERP to the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee for storage, treatment and conveyance of water necessary to rehydrate the Everglades, recharge the Biscayne aquifer and stop the excessive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to downstream coastal estuaries. This is not surprising, since the sugar industry would prefer that taxpayer dollars and attention be focused on the expenditure of approximately $16 billion dollars over the next 30 years on CERP in lieu of restoration of the historic flow way between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

The west coast stakeholders should speak with one voice, but the unified voice should be directed to our Governor and state legislature to use Amendment One funds to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the hydrological connection between the Lake and the Everglades.

The Mayor’s White Paper includes an extensive list of local and regional water resource projects to be constructed in the Caloosahatchee watershed, yet the most cost efficient and effective solution to ensure that the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries receive minimum flows is through appropriate changes in water policy. Water reservation for environmental release, equitable water conservation practices for agriculture, utilities and the environment and reallocation of surplus water in the Lake Okeechobee Service Area to comply with minimum flows and levels would address low flow challenges in the Caloosahatchee.

– Ray Judah is a former Lee County commissioner