LEE COUNTY, Fla.- As water lines creep closer to emergency levels in Lake Okeechobee, the community is taking action. Thursday, state and local leaders discussed solutions to both the environmental and economic impacts.
From now on, fresh water releases Lake Okeechobee will continue indefinitely, meaning that extra water will carry mud, plant material and fertilizers downstream to Southwest Florida beaches.
Several groups met along the Okechobee Waterway to talk about how the issue of dangerously high lake water levels can be resolved without severe impact on the ecosystem and economy.
"It's really going to come down to funding. If the money is there, potentially over the next 8 to 10 years, you could see some good construction," said Eric Eikenberg, Everglades Foundation.
And officials say that is what's needed to achieve clearer water in the long term.
Those plans came up when state Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto met with Southwest Florida businesses, realtors and environmental groups. Benacquisto is part of a newly-formed committee aimed specifically at tackling water quality issues due to Lake Okeechobee.
"It's going to take a lot of really great minds and active folks to make sure our voice here in the Southwest Florida area is heard and we're going to lead that charge," said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Some of the long-term fixes are already in the works, and include a reservoir called "C-43," which will store the extra water from Lake Okeechobee, instead of pumping it down the Caloosahatchee River.
Another solution is the Central Everglades Planning Project, which would move excess water south into the Everglades, instead of west and east which is what happens now.
Local tourism-based businesses welcome the increased attention on the state an national levels. Some say they're already fielding calls from potential visitors about the browning of the area's lifeblood.
"We get people that come into our business and ask we hear the water's not clean down here. They don't want to come to a place where the water quality's not good, "said Al Durrett, of Fish-Tale Marina on Fort Myers Beach.
The price tag on the two projects mentioned in the meeting is $2.5 billion, which is supposed to be an investment from state and federal governments. Last year, state lawmakers say they allocated $70 million.
The new committee will have its first meeting August 22. Anyone concerned with the water quality can attend.