provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Local water-quality watchers voiced concern about current water levels in Lake Okeechobee relative to future algae and other water-quality impacts on Southwest Florida at the most recent SanCap Chamber business luncheon, and cautioned listeners to keep alert and ready to spring into action in weeks to come.
The monthly business meeting took place on Wednesday, June 21, at Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort in Fort Myers featuring speakers SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) CEO James Evans and Captains for Clean Water executive director Daniel Andrews.
Andrews referenced previous water crises in 2013, 2016, and 2018 and the positive results of united local efforts to effect change during those events.
“That gives me hope that anything on the horizon, any risk, any threat, any political strategy by our opposition has little chance if we stay together, stay focused….” he said. “Because when there’s a crisis, this community has come together and, working with the chamber of commerce, with SCCF, the more water gets bad and there’s attention on it, we will also see progress this summer but you have to be a part of that…. It is our responsibility as residents and stewards to this area to stand up and fight and demand better so that we can see those policies advance. … It requires everybody coming together and standing up with a single voice.”
Evans also emphasized the need for grassroots involvement where water releases from Lake Okeechobee are concerned this summer, noting that a month ago the blue-green algae coverage in the lake was at 65.59 square miles, whereas now it is at 420 square miles.
“You need to be watching this very closely, and John [Lai, chamber president and CEO]’s been doing a wonderful job at the chamber to be putting out this info along with Captains for Clean Water on social media,” Evans said. “Continue to follow all those postings on social media and get engaged. We’re probably going to need you to speak up to the army corps and South Florida Water Management District to try to reduce those damaging discharges. Because the lake where it is now, I’m not that hopeful…. Start speaking up now.”
“As we’re looking at a lake that’s at 14.19 feet this morning, we would like to see that around 12 feet or less right now… and that’s pretty concerning.” said Andrews. “But again, we have to stay focused on those lasting solutions.”
Both speakers addressed ongoing projects that would redirect water flow from Lake Okeechobee back to historic patterns through the Everglades for filtering of algae and relief from high winter salinity levels. They reported on the status of Reservoir C43, in response to an attendee’s question, which would specifically aid dry season issues, but has been delayed to a 2025 completion date due to building contractor problems.
Evans urged members of the chamber and Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association in attendance to fight the sugar industry and bad leadership through political channels, because litigious strategies are not effective.
“From a political standpoint we have a lot more control of who we elect, who leads, and who allows developments to be put in places where they shouldn’t be,” he said. “Those are the folks who need to be put out of office. And elect leaders who are going to look out for your best interests, the best interests of your business…. You’ve got to be electing leaders that are going to bat for you.”
“As you know, water quality is priority number one for chamber legislative efforts,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “We are exceedingly fortunate to have organizations like SCCF and Captains for Clean Water, under the capable leadership of James and Daniel, to partner in this long fight. We are making progress, thanks to our strong community, but, as they pointed out, we still have our work cut out for us in the future. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts to create a unified front.”
Clive Daniel Home and Simple Social Marketing Agency sponsored the June luncheon. The chamber has scheduled the next business lunch meeting for Wednesday, July 19, at Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, featuring John Talmage, director of the Lee County Economic Development Office, with an economic outlook for Sanibel and Captiva Islands.