A continued message to stay engaged and fight for our waterways, marine life and economy throughout the year was the primary focus of the Clean Water Rally at the Lee County Alliance For The Arts GreenMarket on Saturday.
Hosted by Clean Water Initiative Florida, many speakers took to the podium to express their feelings about the need for an ongoing presence to stop water pollution caused by weeks of high flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers each summer. The extreme flows are damaging the area's coastal habitats and water quality to the point where the action may negatively affect not only our ecology but our economy, tourism industry and possibly our health in a devastating way.
Before the rally kicked off, everyone was encouraged to sign a copy of the Floridians' Clean Water Declaration. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Hundreds of people turned out for the GreenMarket clean water rally and heard different viewpoints from many different speakers this past Saturday.
"Your support means a tremendous amount throughout the state as we hold simultaneous rallies to ensure the State of Florida recognizes it no longer takes for granted that we need to protect and restore our waterways," said Ray Judah, coordinator of Florida Coast & Ocean Coalition and emcee for the event. "We need to keep our local elected officials accountable to ensure that the people of Florida benefit from their inalienable right for clean and safe water."
Local groups as well as ones from the east coast of Florida will be organizing for the "Rally in Tally" event in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Everyone is invited.
"We demand clean water. We are not going to be silent anymore," said Beach resident and activist John Heim, one of the organizers of the event.
Heim invited many children from the River Kidz West Coast Youth Eco Art group on stage. The kids were referred to as the next generation to fight for clean and safe water.
"Why not get our youth involved right now when it comes to an eco-awareness Arts platform," he said. "Our kids want clean water. When 10-year olds are more educated about the solutions to our water problems than our local officials, that speaks volumes."
"Green Guy" John Scott likened the "toxic runoff" from Lake O to an oil spill. The photo he showed proved his analogy.
"This is a cause that transcends political party lines and all walks of life," he said. "Everyone should be concerned about the water quality."
Recent red drift algae found along the shoreline was reported to be a direct link to the 2013 summer runoffs that were higher due to above average rainfall filling Lake O reservoirs.
"Right now, if you go look at the beaches, you'll find red drift algae. We've also had a premature red tide on and off," said Scott.
Other speakers included Sen. Nan Rich (who is running for Florida Governor), Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, World-renowned nature photographer/environmentalist Clyde Butcher, Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Natural Resources Director Jennifer Hecker, Lee County Commission candidate Debbie Jordan and Florida State House Dist. 77 seat candidate Jim Roach.
Said Fitzenhagen: "My goal is to bring together all Floridians for clean water. With the right plan in place and the right mindset, we can accomplish our goals."
Said Sawicki: "I can't think of another issue more important than the quality and sustainability of life in Southwest Florida than the quality of our water. Water quality is more of a regional challenge that we must work together to solve so that we can all continue to enjoy our life in this part of paradise."
Said Hecker: "In 2006, the Caloosahatchee River was selected as one of the most endangered rivers in the United States. Eight years later, that river is at much of a risk today as it was back then. The biggest problem is nutrient pollution, which is lowering the oxygen in our waters to levels that are too low to support aquatic life." Go to www.conservancy.org to learn more about solutions.
According to the clean water declaration, Florida waters are held in public trust by the State of Florida for the benefit of its people and the maintenance of natural ecosystems. It is the responsibility of the people of Florida, the state government and the industries that benefit from Florida's natural resources to stop pollution at its source rather than allowing it to enter our waters and to protect the natural environment that is critical to the health of Florida's people, wildlife and economy.