Mayors hold emergency meeting on water releases

Posted at 2:17 PM, Feb 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-11 08:19:22-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Nutrient laden brown water continues to be released from Lake Okeechobee into Southwest Florida's estuaries, and the mayors of Lee County met at Bonita Springs city hall Wednesday morning for an emergency meeting.

"We have actually affected the environment in a negative way and may not even be understanding that," said Sanibel mayor Kevin Ruane.

In the past, the water releases have led to fish kills and decimating populations of oysters and crabs. Along with the environment, officials are concerned this could have an impact on tourism, which is at the heart of Lee County's economy. 

Senator Heather Fitzenhagen has even asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a 'state of emergency' in Lee County so businesses and homeowners can collect economic damages. 
Solutions discussed by the mayors in Wednesday's meeting include plans to find properties to store water and challenge the Army Corps of Engineers on the necessity of each release. 
However, environmentalists say there's much more that needs to be done about the lands south of Lake Okeechobee. 
"Before they were lands for sugar, they were part of the Everglades ecosystem. We cannot fix this problem without buying back some of that land for additional conveyance and storage of fresh water," says Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. 
That will take work at the state and federal level which are efforts these mayors can only support with words.