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A Big Win for Our River

Written by: Editorial
Publicized in: News-Press
Publication Date: May 15, 2007

A big win for our river
Originally posted on May 15, 2007

'Gov. Charlie Crist (850) 488-4441; to e-mail visit, then click on contact Gov. Crist.

The battle to save Lee County's estuaries is far from over it will never end but a major victory was won last week.

Gov. Charlie Crist still has to sign it, but the Legislature OK'd more than $400 million in additional South Florida environmental cleanup money, and even more important designated a Northern Everglades area, including Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers as part of the Everglades system.

That confers new, equal status and protection to the rivers and their tributaries, which have often been treated as dumping grounds for polluted lake water. This legislation gives the right scope to 'Everglades restoration,' including now the lake, the rivers that flow into and out of it, and the coastal estuaries affected by them, as well as the Everglades itself.

Credit goes to several leaders Lee County commissioners, the Sanibel City Council and others but also to hundreds of ordinary residents and their organizations on both coasts, including school kids and nature-loving tourists who were angry enough over what was happening beginning early last year to demand action.

The News-Press started a STOP THE MUCK campaign, inspired by the ugly mats of algae that smothered seagrass beds in J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, after releases from the storm-swollen lake.

The new legislation will step up water restrictions on development around the lake; regulate fertilizer runoff in the river basins, including the Kissimmee, which collects water from as far north as the Orlando suburbs and carries it to the lake; ban the spreading of waste treatment sludge on farms near the rivers; and improve water flow beneath the Tamiami Trail and into the Everglades to the south, as well as turn more attention to pollution north of the lake that is the source of so much of what reaches us.

There's lots to be sorted out, for example what area contributes what amounts of the fertilizer and waste that nourish the Caloosahatchee and trigger algae blooms. Water managers emphasize the contributions downstream from the lake. Some people downstream say the lake is the big problem. But at least this crisis is being tackled with something like a comprehensive approach.


This success call it an opportunity to turn the tide is very much that of residents and their elected representatives pushing the government to act more aggressively than it was inclined to do.

The South Florida Water Management District is pursuing one of the most ambitious environmental restoration programs in history for the Everglades system. But until now, the Caloosahatchee and its estuary, and its companion St. Lucie system east of the lake, were not given the priority they deserved. That should change now, if this legislation is signed.

'We're equal now,' says Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall, who played a key role in all this as liaison with state agencies and the Legislature, where Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, and Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, pushed the issues.

Of the new money, more than $200 million goes to expanding Everglades restoration through 2020. But another $100 million in state money will be spent on the rivers, possibly including help with a crucial water treatment area for the 52 billion-gallon reservoir scheduled to begin construction later this year.

'Now it's a matter of how the money is to be spent that is of extreme importance,' says Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, a veteran crusader for better water management on our end of the sprawling South Florida system. 'There is no question there needs to be treatment of runoff from the lake.'

Saunders, who sponsored the legislation in the state Senate, said treating the entire Lake Okeechobee region as an interlocking system will lead to new success.

'This will be the first time, to my knowledge, that the state of Florida has taken a comprehensive view of the Kissimmee River basin as well as the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee.'

Urge the governor to sign the landmark legislation into law.

think about this...

"We must build a peace in South Florida - a peace between the people and their place, between the natural environment and man-made settlement, between the works of man and the life of mankind itself. "
~ Florida Gov. Reubin Askew ~