Take care of our Caloosahatchee
November 24, 2010
To the editor,
The PURRE Water Coalition supports the idea of a riverkeeper to help safeguard the Caloosahatchee from harm. A recent investigation by NBC-2 reporter Andy Pierrotti just adds to the evidence that a riverkeeper, while a good idea, is not nearly enough.
PURRE has long been alarmed about municipalities within Lee County blatantly violating laws while fouling the Caloosahatchee and its estuary. It is our firm belief that the Lee County Board of County Commissioners has the responsibility to police the river and must protect this irreplaceable resource so vital to the people of Lee County and beyond. When federal and state agencies such as the EPA and DEP don’t step up and enforce the laws under their jurisdiction, the BOCC must step in and force violating municipalities to comply with the law. The river runs through all of Lee County; it does not stop and go around the cities of Fort Myers or Cape Coral.
This issue was illustrated in a sad and dramatic way this week by NBC-2 reporter Andy Pierrotti’s story about the City of Fort Myers’ wastewater treatment plant and its long history of noncompliance with the federal Clean Water Act. When he discovered the city had more fines levied against it than any other locality – more than $95,000 over the past five years — he turned to the DEP, the enforcement agency of the EPA’s standards. There he learned that the city was putting water into the Caloosahatchee containing "cooling byproducts," better known as chlorine, from the treatment plant containing toxins that can kill marine life and that at extremely high levels can cause cancer and liver damage in humans.
Andy learned that the DEP knew about this five years ago but let the city continue to violate the Clean Water Act because its wastewater treatment plant's infrastructure was not designed to prevent the discharges. The city could pay $3 million for a ultraviolet light system (UVA) that would kill the toxins, but that has not been done... yet it continues to pay the fines and has applied for "mixing zones," which basically are permits to break the Clean Water Act and continue these discharges.
We are counting on our Board of County Commissioners to take care of our Caloosahatchee, especially since it appears that the EPA and the DEP will not. The river is the engine that drives our economy; it is the basis of our fragile and treasured ecology here in southwest Florida; it is where our history begins; it is the source of our superb quality of life.
We ask the Lee County Board of County Commissioners to take over where the EPA and DEP are falling short and demand that the municipalities within Lee County — in this case, the City of Fort Myers — comply with the Clean Water Act. It is the law.
Michael J. Valiquette,
Chairman, PURRE Water Coalition, Inc.