Caloosahatchee River at Risk
On Oct. 20, The News-Press (Fort Myers and Cape Coral) held a forum about the crisis plaguing the Caloosahatchee River. More than 130 government officials, scientists, and citizens came to listen to five panelists who also answered audience questions.
The forum grew from the newspaper's September "River at Risk" series, which examined the health of the 75-mile-long Caloosahatchee that flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.
The river is critical to the region it traverses — Lee County's $2.6 billion tourism industry depends on it — but its health is challenged by wastewater runoff, toxic algae blooms, leaky septic systems and too much or too little water from Lake Okeechobee.
Kim Taplin of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the audience that when the Caloosahatchee was engineered, the goal was to fundamentally change the landscape by containing the lake and moving floodwaters out to sea as fast as possible. The Corps' first responsibility is to keep the public safe from floods, even if that hurts the river, according to Taplin.
When water levels in the lake rise, they threaten the old, earthen dike that contains the lake. To help relieve the pressure, the Corps sends water down the Caloosahatchee, which can damage the health of the river's animals and plants. So can too little lake water.
Taplin acknowledged the balancing act is difficult — and sometimes impossible.
"We do know that it's destroying your estuary," she said. "It pains us to make those discharges."
"It is also painful to the rest of the community when the poor health of the river affects drinking water supplies, property values, river-front economies and the quality of life for the residents of Southwest Florida," said Marti Daltry, Conservation Organizer at Sierra Club's Fort Myers office.
Participants at the forum divided into small groups to brainstorm solutions to these problems. Among the ideas suggested was the need to pass a fertilizer ordinance in Cape Coral. Over 40 municipalities and counties statewide have adopted fertilizer ordinances to reduce nutrient runoff. Cape Coral is the only municipality in Lee County that has not adopted such an ordinance.
News-Press coverage of this forum and related editorials on this issue can be found here.
—Marti Daltry, Conservation Organizer, Red Tide Campaign