Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and Florida’s Battle for Clean Water

So here I am… a couple weeks into quietly “exposing” our web site and new business idea on the internet.

I pushed the blog live and started posting a little on social media around Memorial Day weekend. (Our boating plans were rained out by Tropical Storm Alberto. Perfect computing weather).

I launched the site quickly. Not because I felt ready to “put myself out there,” but because we were compelled to start building some web traffic to this new domain name. I was excited and had to start moving the needle off ‘0’.

boating babe
Photo: @FtMyersSanibel
So to promote a local boating business on the internet, it makes sense to post about positive boating news. Right?

You know, boaters enjoying the water in Southwest Florida… The amazing snook, redfish and tarpon fisheries we have… The terrific sailing club I’ve been a part of my whole life… The best beach and restaurant destinations in SWFL… These are the types of things I dreamed of sharing with others right out of the gate.

Boats and beaches and babes… an easy sell right?

Everything Flows Downstream (Currently onto Lee County’s Shores)

However, we are currently suffering from water emergencies here in Southwest Florida. I can’t ignore them and press on with “chamber of commerce” type imagery right now.

Depending on how you chalk it up, the big mistake started somewhere between 1881 and 1921. That’s when speculators so wisely started re-engineering the natural plumbing of South Florida and the Everglades to accommodate farming. It’s been a downhill slide since then.

Lake Okeechobee Algae BloomBack to May 2018, starting ForShore, and how these algae blooms have become my (hopefully temporary) focus.

Florida got drenched by a metric butt-ton of rain the last two weeks of May (including the aforementioned Alberto). The first heavy rains of the year naturally send a lot of run-off and nutrients into the estuary.

Then on June 1 the Army Corps of Engineers started discharging 5.3 trillion (yes, with a TR!) gallons PER DAY of water from Lake Okeechobee.

This period was followed by some extremely hot, drier weather. By June 16-ish the reports of algae blooms on Lake O were piling up. By June 24, an estimated 60% (of a 730 mi² lake) was covered in cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Since that time, the algal blooms have been discharged out the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and the images we’ve been capturing are disturbing.

The algae has since been confirmed as toxic.

During the same week, large fish kills are happening near SWFL Gulf Beaches. The worst seems to be concentrated from Sarasota to Captiva.

The response in Lee County to all of this has been a mild uproar at best. Yes, some avid boaters, fishermen and residents are appalled. But not nearly enough of us.

Where is the Concern? Where is the Action?

Is everyone up north? Have they not been here long enough to know these water quality issues aren’t acceptable?

Anyone who has been around the water in Southwest Florida for more than a year or two can tell you the water quality has steadily degraded in their time here. We don’t have to standby and watch it and wonder how to thread the needle between blooms to go to the beach or go fishing. (I have multiple friends asking me this question everyday.)

We can do better.

I don’t have the answers, but first we have to reach more people and educate them on the issues.

There are quite a few organizations I think you should follow if you are concerned with water quality issues in Southwest Florida. But of all of them, the two I recommend the most are the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and Calusa Waterkeeper. Both are non-profit organizations who base their advocacy on science.

Our politicians are issuing statements this week due to the local media coverage. But the time for talking points is over. We don’t need more monitoring. It’s time for meaningful action by officials.

We have to ask the hard questions, cut through the lip service, and keep constant pressure on our local and state officials.

There are so many government departments and bureaucracies at play here, there is no single point of management or blame. This has to change and we have to hold them accountable.

This includes our state and local officials, South Florida Water Management District, US Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Health. They all share in the blame and do an amazing job at tip-toeing around responsibility and common sense.

All Strategy Out the Window

strange timeA lot like this algae, the weather, or the water, I don’t always know where I’m going from moment to moment. What I do know is I will battle for what I hold dear. My businesses, clean water, and my family’s future.

It’s all connected. That, I’m certain of.

On Wednesday I spent most of my day out at the Franklin Lock and Labelle, observing the bloom and talking to a reporter from the Miami Herald (more on that when the story drops).

I’ve seen the blooms before when they get to our Cape Coral canals, but standing over much more of it held up at the lock was a different experience. It’s a little bit mesmerizing. Fish broke the water and created little eddies in it. A manatee and calf unknowingly surfaced in it. Boat wakes push it around and make fascinating patterns with it.

Coincidentally, my favorite color is blueish green. I’m a child of the Eighties — eye-wateringly bright fluorescent colors are our thing. But I can’t get that bold green algae color out of my head after seeing it first-hand. It’s gnarly. Something has to be done.

So I feel compelled to capture and share ugly photos, share my experiences and write about the issues I’m diving into.

Business be damned.

ForShore will be fighting for clean water for boating and swimming.

This is also a battle for our property values and the legacy we leave our children.

Is anyone with me? 

If you’re interested for more insight into Florida’s waterways and issues, please sign-up for alerts & insights or hit me up in the comments below!

(P.S. Thanks for reading this far, I owe you a beer).