Provided to the SantivaChronicle.com
Although island waters look good right now and in the forecastable future, water quality management principals, like many local residents and businesses, are nervous about what the summer rainy season will bring. That was the sense James Evans, SCCF environmental policy director, and Chauncey Goss, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) board chairman, imparted to members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce during its May 12 virtual meeting.
“As we look forward to rainy season, I think it’s going to be critical, as a business community, to continue to put pressure on the Army Corps of Engineer, our state and regional representatives,” said Evans.
He acknowledged that U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds is taking up the cause. “We’re moving in the right direction, but we need our state representatives really fighting for us on this issue, because we can’t do it alone and, of course, the business community is probably the most powerful tool we have to make the case for what we need to protect our communities here,” he said.
The fact that the lake is measuring 2.51 feet higher than last year at this time is concerning, said Goss, a Sanibel resident himself. “We’ve got to have a place to put that water,” he said. “Nothing’s going out of the St. Lucie [River] right now, and we’re moving water south as much as we can in each of the stormwater treatment areas. But those stormwater treatment areas got so beat up last October and November, and they’re living things. They’re marshes that we don’t want to kill them, because if you kill them, they’re no use to you at all, because basically what they’re supposed to be doing is removing out phosphorus so that we can end up putting that water down into the Everglades… So, we’re trying to rehabilitate them during the dry season.”
Besides Florida’s East Coast’s refusal to accept water releases from Lake Okeechobee and problems sending water south right now, Evans pointed out as a deterrent to our clean water this summer Gov. Ron DeSantis’ non-response to a request for a state of emergency declaration should the need arise to send water south. All the factors combine to put the Caloosahatchee River and the islands in a vulnerable situation.
“Our position is during the rainy season, we don’t want any lake water either, it’s just that I think the East Coast folks have been more effective at getting that message across,” said Evans.
Moving water south is the long-term goal of the SFWMD, and Goss outlined the progress of reservoirs, pump stations, and other structures that move toward that goal. The first Everglades reservoir, C-44, will be completed in September, he reported.
“We’re looking to fill it in September,” said Goss. “Birds are nesting there now, so we’re not only removing phosphorus, but also creating habitat.”
The largest of the reservoirs, EAA, has a September 2023 completion incentive date. “That’s the reason we’re asking the Biden administration for $725 million, to help the corps to fund this and get it finished,” Goss added.
Evans addressed state funding approvals as a result of the 2021 Florida legislative session to support the reservoirs and other projects, plus other budget items and legislation that will boost water quality and sustainability.
“Water quality issues are certainly, at our chamber government affairs meetings, not something we take lightly,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “Our top legislative priorities this year — every one was built around water quality. Going into the rainy season, we definitely won’t take our eyes off of them.”
“We want to thank the chamber and the chamber alliance for adopting priorities that focus on water quality,” said Evans. “It means a lot to us at SCCF and the community of Sanibel, and we look forward to supporting you at the next legislative session.”
“I want to echo what James said and thank the chamber for hosting this and, not only that, but for being so responsible and taking such a leadership role in this issue,” said Goss. “It’s amazing we’re having this conversation with the chamber. I don’t think this would’ve happened 10 or 15 years ago, and I love to see it. When I’m out in the state, people are very aware that Sanibel is a leader in this role.”
Both speakers also thanked Bailey’s General Store for sponsoring the virtual forum and for all that its team does to support water quality and the community.
Lai announced that the next chamber business meeting will be the first in-person gathering since March 2019. It will take place at Sundial Beach Resort on Friday, June 17, starting at 11:30 a.m. with guest speaker Dana Young, president and chief executive officer of Visit Florida. Adventures in Paradise will sponsor the meeting.
For more information, contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org.