SANIBEL, Fla. -- New images reveal what some are considering a troubling sight in Southwest Florida's coast: sea-foam accumulating along Sanibel Island; something biologists say could be a sign of algae blooms. This comes as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to dumping billions of gallons of murky water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River to reduce the lake's water level.
Lee County mayors say the water's hurting our area -- both environmentally and economically. Friday, they reunited on Sanibel after pushing federal lawmakers in Washington DC to develop permanent solutions this week.
The trip to DC brings new hopes of creating a water bill. The mayors say the answer to the problems of Lake Okeechobee water releases is funding -- for water storage units and dike repairs. "It's a lot of money, and we've got to understand that more clearly and it starts with a funding bill," says Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.
How much funding is not exactly clear at this point. And the mayors don't usually reach out of their jurisdiction. But at Friday's meeting they all agreed the cleaning up of Lake Okeechobee and its water releases should be a national priority. "We are ill-prepared to handle these catastrophic events, and that's what's got to change over time."
"Our job is to try to get the funding necessary to have long term solutions to this process," says Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane.
Earlier this week, the mayors from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Sanibel made their rounds with Congressman Curt Clawson, playing a critical role in bringing attention to all the power brokers in the Capitol. "I think for the first time they now know where Southwest Florida is, and that we have a problem, and that we are all speaking as one," says Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki.
For now, the mayors say optimistically that the releases could stop in 30 days, but that's if Lake Okeechobee doesn't keep getting more rain this dry season.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Florida Senator Bill Nelson is expected to make a trip to Southwest Florida to get a first-hand look at the local impact of these water releases. Just last month, Sen. Nelson backed a bill that would expedite Army Corps projects and divert lake water south through the Everglades, rather than east and west into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.