To the editor:
With the historic levels of water being discharged from Lake O from a very rainy season, the water has become a perception battle -much like the BP oil spill- at our door steps. Or is it just perception? The fact of the matter now is that our waters are indeed tainted to say the least. One glance at it and most are heading the other direction quickly. Many believe the water will stay this color until March. Others scoff and say "this happens every year." That is true, yet never had this much been let out at once by the Army Corps of Engineers. And, never has it stuck around this long.
I decided to learn about this mess as much as I could. I researched as much as I possibly could in the subject online. I contacted our local Sierra Club. I watched informational clips on YouTube about the history of the lock releases. I'm starting to learn about the sugar industry quite abit as well now!
I learned about of how Ray Judah, our ex-county commish for many years and an eco-champion, fought hard against these discharges and warned of an ecological nightmare to come. Then, Ray was ousted finally by what appears to be the responsibility of the sugar industry, not the voters, due to his constant push for corporate responsibility and being responsible toward our precious environment. Sugar is now an important part of this story, as it becomes the root of our water problems in fact. The sugar industry owns the land south of Lake O and really doesn't want to let the water flow south naturally as Mother Nature intended. Why? Because they have crops there now!
Sugar companies essentially created what we have now: forced turn offs to the east through the Saint Lucie River and to the west through the Calossahatchee River. Both outputting into the oceans and Gulf created massive amounts of pollution and unhealthy water. The sugar factor! I couldn't stop thinking about how they have control of how we get our water supply. After weeks of asking people what they thought about all this and seeing our town go down the tourism tube in nano seconds, I had enough. I helped organized a rally for clean water on Sanibel's causeway to raise awareness. More than 300 concerned Southwest Florida citizens showed up to demand clean Florida waterways. It was a breath of fresh air to see a community standing up for itself.
I was then off to the Sept. 1 Sugar Land Rally in Clewiston for a full blown demonstration against the Lake O runoffs and its after-effects. The concept was to unite both east coast and west coast together. Speakers, educators, eco-experts of all forms, and a massive amount of people gathered to fight for a cause. The message was clear-clean water for all of Florida! Including the people of Clewiston. The mayor had spoke of the great flood that killed way too many people in the 1920s. A local school teacher spoke of unity with Clewiston to both the east and west coasts as he stated, "one Florida for Florida."
Keep in mind our fine folks on the east coast are getting hammered too by all this insanity as well. I felt it would be interesting if I took a trip with them to examine their reality through it all. I slipped off my west coast flip flops and put on my east coast flip flops to walk a mile in their slime. Through great people who reside there, I was able to catch a lift with them to their hometown of Jensen Beach. When we pulled into town I was amazed by the communities awareness and proactive approach to their water troubles. Every red light corner had signage to the message of stop the flow from Lake O, every medium at intersections had a person or three passing out awareness fliers, everyone man, woman, and child had t-shirts that read "save our river." It was instant community in action for cause. And it was everywhere. From having advisory warnings up by waterfront areas to concerts at night to raise money to fight against this realty of theirs that they never wanted or asked for as concerned and active residents coming together to say: Enough!
The way they personally thanked me for being there and the way they knew of our area suffering the same fate as them really was heartfelt. They lined me up to go out on the dolphin research vessel and monitor dolphin in these toxic waters. They showed me how they are trying to replenish the oyster pollution by local restaurants donating the shells to go back into the river to help find its way back to life. They offered my a personal tour with their river keeper, who has been infected with Dengue Fever as a result of the toxic water in the Indian river lagoon. He ended up being too ill to take me that day that was planned. As a matter of fact, there has been over 15 cases of the illness reported just before I left to come back home. The water is toxic and can kill sea life and has as well as harmful to humans without a doubt. I've seen it up close and personal. And it's not pretty.
I would hate to see this happen here on our island that is for sure, yet I'm also not so sure that we just may see this sort of illness produced by the toxic line of runoff that is indeed "different" than any other time that we have seen the lake discharges.
My trip was the most educational eye opener about our water problems and what we can actually do about it. Demand the Lake O flow go south through a measure called "Plan 6." Research it please as it's in all of our best interests. Also, in closing, I'd like to see Southwest Floridians more active in the awareness and action needed to rise above this madness upon our eco-system and way of lives.
On Oct. 19, we will be planning an emergency rally on Fort Myers Beach. Where east coast and west coast will unite together for clean waters. Educational booths will be set up, Eco-organizations will be present, speakers will be present on a stage, and a special hands across the sand will also be formed as a signal for the love we all own for our beaches. I have been enlightened by what I seen and experienced on my journey for the truth about our waters health. I now feel obligated to do something right, and that is to help stand up for our precious eco-system and the quality of water needed to keep it alive. I hope all will join on the beach in October to show your personal love for it as well.
John. G. Heim
Fort Myers Beach