LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Local leaders and water quality activists are preparing for a trip to Washington, D.C. Monday, to talk to federal officials about blue-green algae.
Sanibel Beach Mayor Kevin Ruane, Natural Resources Director James Evans, and others flew to the nation's Capitol, Monday. Meanwhile, water activists like South Florida Clean Water Movement's John Heim, will fly out tomorrow.
They are going to discuss an extensive blue-green algae bloom in Southwest Florida waterways with federal and state government officials. The Mayor outlined some of their top priorities to discuss with officials:
Key Message 1: Maintain flows to the Caloosahatchee at or below 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock (S-79) for the remainder of the wet season.
- Watershed runoff & Lake Okeechobee discharges are compounding water quality impacts in the Caloosahatchee River & Estuary.
- Higher salinities throughout the lower & mid-estuary are needed to reduce the area suitable for algal growth.
- Lower flows will also reduce nutrient loading (i.e., nitrogen & phosphorus) from Lake O, which is currently not meeting its Total Maximum Daily Load for nutrients.
Key Message 2: Accelerate critical CERP projects, including the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir (EAA), the C-43 Reservoir, & the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project.
- The EAA Reservoir Project will provide critical water storage, treatment, & conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee. It is imperative that the EAA Reservoir Project be included in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) & the necessary funds are appropriated so that construction can move forward as soon as possible.
- C-43 Reservoir will provide critical storage within the watershed & needs continued funding by the State of Florida to stay on track with the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS). The Caloosahatchee is currently "impaired" for nutrients, so it is imperative that a water quality treatment component be added to improve the quality of the water discharged to the river.
- The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project is critical for reducing inflows to the Lake & must be fast-tracked. This project will help regulate the volume, timing, & quality of the water delivered to the Lake.
Key Message 3: US Army Corps of Engineers must utilize maximum operational flexibility to move additional water south & overcome operational constraints that do not directly impact human health & safety.
- Following Governor Scott's Emergency Order, the water management system must be reevaluated to maximize freshwater flows south of Lake Okeechobee.
- This includes assessing and overcoming current operational constraints that do not directly impact human health & safety.
Water quality activist John Heim also hopes the federal government reinstates a Harmful Algae Task Force that will monitor algae blooms coming out of Lake Okeechobee. "We'll be there Friday. We have meetings set up with not only Congressman Rooney and Congressman Mast, but also Senator Marco Rubio," he said. "Whether you're an activist, a community member, a business member, or a politician here locally, everyone seems to be on the same page and unified."
These meetings are taking place days after a popular Cape Coral beach banned swimming because of algae. The Cape Coral Yacht Club has "no swimming" signs posted all over the beach. The city does not have a timeline as to when the beach will reopen. "City Manager John Szerlag closed the beach to swimming due to the presence of blue-green algae," said city Spokeswoman Connie Barron.
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