Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition coordinator Ray Judah is getting the word out about the state of water quality in South Florida. He reiterated key points and solutions to business members of the Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon at Charley's Boat House Grill last Thursday, less than a month after offering a presentation to Town officials.
With rainy season on the horizon, Judah is spending a lot of time in outreach when not involved in legislative lobbying regarding restoring and protecting the Caloosahatchee River and its estuaries from harmful pollutants caused by high flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake Okeechobee. The pollutants include pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, nitrogen and phosphorous to our water ways.
"This is the catalyst for the algae blooms we are experiencing here on a regular basis and also the red tide outbreaks and the fish kills," he said.
Environmentalist Ray Judah explains the Lake Okeechobee water discharge volumes and rates during a power point presentation to Beach Chamber members.
Judah spoke of the "deceptive campaign" and what is needed as "meaningful solutions" to end the massive release of polluted water that is reportedly devastating our estuaries. He stated elected officials are posturing that the dark colored waters are only organic compounds called 'tannins' released from mangroves.
"Tannins are tea-colored. What we are seeing today is a mucky, coffee-grounds type of color," Judah said. "Red tide is a natural phenomenon, but when it comes in contact with the nutrients and phosphorus, that's where you get the explosive, increase in frequency and duration of red tide that is just destroying our fisheries resources and certainly affecting the tourism industry. It is induced by mankind."
Water quality action at the recently completed state legislative session will not provide the right relief, according to Judah.
"Everything that the legislature did this past session as a follow-up to the devastating impact this past summer will not do one bit of good in alleviating the massive releases that we are going to experience again this summer," he said.
Pictures of dead sea grass, dead fish and dead manatees were shown for effect. A reported record 276 manatees died in 2013, largely related to inhaling and eating toxic algae in the sea grasses.
What is needed is the historic water flow to be distributed south again towards the Everglades not to the west and east coasts. Unfortunately, 440,000 of 700,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area is sugar cane fields.
"The EAA has severed the hydrological connection," said Judah. "So, the Everglades are now starved for water, and the east and west coast estuaries are getting too much water that is heavily polluted."
Tax bills reflect a tax pertaining to the South Florida Water Management District on the Lake Okeechobee levee.
"Collectively, all of us in Lee County are paying over $30 million a year into what's called essentially a drainage district that benefits the sugar cane industry," Judah said. "It distributes and back pumps the water into the lake. When the sugar industry back pumps the water from the EAA into the lake, it's not treated. It does not have to meet any level of water quality requirements."
The C-43 Reservoir, which is to be built in Hendry County for roughly $1 billion, is not a long-term solution, even though local and state politicians campaign that way, says the environment champion.
"If you look at the design and the storage capacity for the C-43 Reservoir, it will hold 55 billion gallons of water," he said. "If you put it into perspective by using the massive releases from last summer, it will fill up in nine days. So, in less than two weeks, the C-43 Reservoir will fill up."
Plan 6 proposal is the fix to distribute high flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake O. In 2013, there was 2.5 million acre feet of water in the lake.
"What is needed is a spillway to release the water to the south just like it is built in other reservoirs and dams in the country," said Judah. "Plan 6 is to basically recreate a semblance of the flow way in the EAA to allow the water to be stored, treated and conveyed to the south. What we are looking at is to purchase 50,000 acres -20,000 from U.S. Sugar, 30,000 for Florida Crystals- which is only 15 percent of the land money owned by the sugar cane corporation. It sure would make a world of difference to alleviate the massive releases that are affecting our estuaries."
The message is to write to local and state legislators to let them know about how you feel about water quality and Plan 6 as a solution. Go to www.flcoastalandocean.org/ to learn more.
Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera has been keeping watch on the poor water quality situation, which is not only destroying our ecology but economy as well.
"Everybody in this room needs to become active in this because it is our livelihood going into the future," he said. "Because Congress was too late to pass funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to put it into its budget this year, nothing is going to happen this summer to keep the pollution from coming down the Caloosahatchee (River) and onto our beaches. Everybody in this room needs to be outraged."