Communities across Florida have scheduled simultaneous water rallies on Feb. 1 to raise awareness about the work that remains to be done to protect local waterways.
A Clean Water Action Event in Lee County is scheduled for Feb. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts in Fort Myers.
Ray Judah, former Lee County Commissioner and current coordinator of the Florida Coastal & Ocean Coalition, said Floridians have a right to clean water. The weekend rallies, as well as a statewide event on Feb. 18 in Tallahassee, are meant to refocus the spotlight on the issue of water.
Releases from Lake Okeechobee garnered much attention over the summer when above average rainfall drove excesses into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, releases with higher concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous.
But, as conditions dried up over the winter, water quality no longer was the priority it had been.
Judah said Southwest Florida is still feeling the effects of the releases.
What: Clean Water Action Event
When: Saturday, Feb. 1,
from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Lee County Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers.
Details: Visit flcoastalandocean.org
"The problem we are having with red drift algae on our coastal beaches and the discoloration of the water are the remnants or legacy of the nutrients washed down the Caloosahatchee to our estuary," said Judah. "Not to mention we had the highest record of manatee deaths to red tide in 2013."
Judah and a number of guest speakers including State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Lee County; Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers; Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki; and nature photographer Clyde Butcher, will address the issue.
And Florida, which boasts a $65 billion a year tourism industry, can't afford to have brown water and dead marine life on its beaches.
The state is working to alleviate water flow issues, including the construction of an additional 2.6-miles of bridging along Tamiami Trail in the Everglades National Park, but Judah said its not enough to deal with the amount of water coming from Lake Okeechobee, and the state should consider purchasing portions of the Everglades Agricultural Area, used by U.S. Sugar Lands and Florida Crystals, for storage, treatment, and conveyance.
He said the bridging would only convey 68 billion gallons to the Everglades, but in an average year 455 billion gallons of water - 812 billion gallons in a wet year like 2013 - from Lake Okeechobee are released to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie.
"When you look at these projects, while it may seem they might address the need for storage and treatment and conveyance to the south, the numbers don't add up in terms of providing adequate storage," said Judah.
Governor Rick Scott announced a $130 million investment in the Everglades and state waterways on Jan. 22. It appropriates $40 million for the completion of the C-44 Stormwater Treatment Area in St. Lucie County, $30 million for a three-year installment of the Tamiami Trail project, $32 million for the Governor's Everglades Water Quality Restoration Plan, and funds to complete the restoration of the Kissimmee River.