Published: Nov 09, 2010 8:21 PM EST
Updated: Nov 09, 2010 5:16 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Some environmentalists in Lee and Collier County, as well as elected officials, are pressuring the South Florida Water Management District to increase the flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River. They claim without more fresh water, the river, marine life, and tourism could be harmed.

"I love this river for fishing and kayaking, but the water district is not doing a great job at helping the health of the river," said Ralf Brookes, an attorney in Cape Coral. "I believe they should release more water from the lake into the river to prevent the intrusion of salt water from the gulf. Too much of that salt water coming upriver hurts the estuary and kills the grasses that manatees feed on - and that help other marine life to thrive."

Brookes and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida are filing a petition with the governing board of the water district. They are asking the water managers to revise their rules for minimum flow during dry season. Right now, that is 300 cubic feet a second. Brookes would like that increased to 450 or 500 cubic feet per second.

However, Charles Dauray, a member of the governing board, says that may not be possible. "We have contracts to supply water  to utilities and farms. We have to meet those obligations. There is only so much water in the lake, especially during a dry fall like this one. It is a game of Russian Roulette trying to figure out the rainfall and rain patterns. We will listen to their comments, but we don't know if we can do just what they want," said Dauray.

Tommy Strowd, operations director of the district, agrees. "We do the best we can with the water we have," he told WINK.     The district staff has recommended against changing the minimum flow requirements. The governing board is supposed to hear arguments on Wednesday and possibly make a decision on future requirements. The governing board is meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University.