Report shines spotlight on Southwest Florida’s water issues

Published: October 25, 2021 6:36 PM EDT
Updated: October 26, 2021 4:52 AM EDT

A state report shows trouble in Southwest Florida’s water. Scientists warn that areas of our water are polluted with nutrients and bacteria.

While the findings are no surprise to those who sample and study our waterways, the unwanted attention could be a much-needed wake-up call.

Along the Caloosahatchee River, some creeks and canals that flow from the rivers are listed as impaired for bacteria or nutrients, according to to the new report.

Our waterways are the arteries running across the Sunshine State. But what can we do when the lifeblood of our home is unhealthy?

“Kind of the root of the problem is this paradox between, you know, rapid growth that’s being promoted at various levels and maintaining water quality,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

Cassani says striving for both rapid, profitable growth and water quality is not always sustainable.

“We think you can have sustainable, smart growth and protect your waters, but the kind of growth we’re seeing is damaging our waters,” said Cassani.

The damages are mapped out in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Biennial Assessment Draft. It shows that many of Florida’s water bodies, including Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River, are impaired by harmful nutrients and bacteria.

“Billy’s Creek, Imperial River, quite a variety of water bodies that people are familiar with in our area are impaired,” Cassani said. “So what does that mean? That means that through the Clean Water Act, the state will have to restore these water bodies at some point in time. And that… that’s expensive.”

There is an expensive price tag for a priceless resource that draws in visitors from all over. James Evans is the Environmental Police Director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“We have a $3 billion tourism industry here in the county alone, and people come here to enjoy our world-class beaches, our world-class fisheries like you see out here in Tarpon Bay and, unfortunately, we’re not immune from water quality problems,” Evans said.

Evans says while it isn’t a good thing to have waterways on the list, it could do some good.

“We hope that this raises some significant attention to our water quality issues here in Southwest Florida, and we hope that the local governments and the state can work together to protect and preserve our water quality,” Evans said.

If you’d like to make your voice heard, the Department of Environmental Protection is accepting public comment until November 10. To add your comments, follow this link.