Southwest Florida Congressman Curt Clawson met with environmentalist and conservation group leaders in Bonita Springs Tuesday to discuss how to deal with the water from Lake Okeechobee being released into the Caloosahatchee River.
The murky runoff water is the result of record dry-season rainfall, and has spread into the Gulf of Mexico. For months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dumping billions of gallons per day into both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.
The brown water is having a disastrous effect on tourism and the ecology of coastal Lee County.
"We're getting a lot of complaints," said James Evans, Director of Natural Resources for the City of Sanibel. "There's people checking out of hotels, and it's really devastating our local sport fishing economy."
Evans said that he liked what he heard in the meeting with Clawson, who has introduced bills that could put an end to the water releases.
"I say this year, for the first time, let's get a permanent solution," Clawson said. "We all need to be on the same page here, because we've got a crisis."
He said that public pressure is crucial to get the federal government to step up, by spending money to improve the Hoover Dike at Lake O.
"Pump up the volume, because public pressure means something in a democracy," Clawson said. "And we need some help here."
Clawson said that the ultimate goal is to start moving the water from Lake O south into the Everglades. Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said agrees that's the best answer, but it's a complex solution: in order to work, agricultural land must be purchased from U.S. Sugar by either the federal or state government.
"We're absolutely supportive of sending the water south," Hecker said. "That's really the only permanent solution to stopping the discharges to the Caloosahatchee River and estuary."
Clawson also wants the feds to spend the millions it would take to make improvements to the aging dike at Lake Okeechobee.