South Florida political leaders take tour of Caloosahatchee, discuss water quality

Published: February 17, 2021 4:03 PM EST
Updated: February 17, 2021 4:56 PM EST

Leaders from South Florida’s two coasts met on Wednesday to discuss water quality issues facing this region of the state and its possible solutions.

The cities of Miami, Sanibel and Fort Myers are joining efforts to address water quality and Everglades restoration. To do this, representatives from Captains for Clean Water, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Everglades Trust, the City of Sanibel, and City of Miami went on a tour of the Caloosahatchee River on Wednesday.

On the Southwest Florida coast, one of the main issues is the discharges from Lake Okeechobee that contribute to blue-green algae.

“Our big issues are of course the discharges from Lake Okeechobee, not getting the amount of freshwater we need during the dry season, and then getting too much of that water during the wet season,” said James Evans, director of Environmental policy for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Meanwhile, in Miami-Dade County, one issue is the lack of freshwater.

What if the issues Southwest Florida faces could be the solution for areas south of the area?

That’s where City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell comes in. Russell wants to learn how his city can be part of the conversation around the state’s water quality and quantity.

“We need that water that they’re fighting to keep away from their communities, we want that water to come south,” Russell said. “We want it to recharge our aquifer, the Biscayne aquifer which gives drinking water to eight million Miamians.”

Russell met with Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson and Lee County Board of Commissioner Chairman Kevin Ruane after the boat tour.

The hope is that sending more water from Lake Okeechobee south, can help restore the Everglades and relieve Lee County from the harmful discharges.

The discharges harmed tourism in the area, said Sanibel Vice Mayor Holly Smith.

“If our water isn’t healthy, our economy isn’t going to be healthy,” Smith said.

With projects underway like water storage south of Lake  Okeechobee, these groups see it as a move in the right direction.

“Until they’re complete, we can’t take our foot off the gas,” said Chris Wittman, co-founder of Captains for Clean Water.