The issue the Governing Board Members of South Florida Water Management District will face on April 12, 2012, is whether to recommend resuming the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. Up until a recommendation by the board, and followed through by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the estuary was receiving minimal fresh water releases essential for its survival. Cutting off these essential minimum flows can have devastating impacts upon the environment and economy of Southwest Florida. The board is urged to reconsider that decision when it reconvenes and recommends to the Corps a resumption of the critical fresh water releases.
Under the current state of affairs, the estuary has been cutback 100 percent zero freshwater releases while no other water users of Lake Okeechobee are placed on any form of water restrictions. Additionally, the likelihood of any restrictions being imposed on other water users is remote. This is patently unacceptable from a legal, public policy and economic standpoint. The amount of water necessary to take the estuary into the wet season is a tiny fraction of what other users consume. In fact, demand from other users for lake water is 10 times that which is needed for the estuary. More water is lost each day from evaporation than would go to the estuary. A decision to resume releases to the estuary will not impact permitted users or harm the ecology of Lake Okeechobee. The Governing Board must look at the ramifications of cutting off a natural system while no water shortage exists. A reevaluation by the board to more fairly balance the needs of all water users must be exercised in order to protect the quality of life and economic interest of all of our citizens.
The environmental impacts of the lack of fresh water are well known. We know the essential area where fresh and salt-water mix will be badly damaged, likely resulting in algae blooms and the requisite public health warnings. What is not as well known is the economic impact to the businesses in Lee County. Lee County's natural resources not only fill up the hotels along our shorelines, but they also bring permanent residents and permanent jobs. Lee County's natural resources attract businesses and entrepreneurs that create jobs here and employees that work and play here. The economic benefits of the estuary cannot be overstated. The estuary is not only the backbone of Lee County's nearly $3 billion annual tourism economy, but it also pumps the blood to its entire economy.
Governing board members have a unique opportunity to make a critical public policy decision that will result in quantifiable and immense benefits to one of the hardest hit regions of the economic recession, while doing no harm to any other user. We are now beginning to see signs of economic recovery here in Lee County. Please do not jeopardize this recovery. A recommendation to resume fresh water releases to the estuary is in the best interest to the region and the State of Florida.
The governing board will have a difficult task, and it appreciates the opportunity for public input on this matter.
Lee County VCB