South Florida Water Management District refuses to acknowledge Southwest Florida and the Caloosahatchee estuary as any type of reasonable priority.

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board met in Palm Beach yesterday. Here is a quick synopsis:

  1. SFWMD denied the very basic science behind a Minimum Flow rule to the Caloosahatchee in the dry season.
  2. SFWMD decided to move forward with Deep Injection Wells to throw away excess water in the wet season.
  3. Maybe later ~ the list goes on and on and I’m trying to keep this simple.

Let’s look closer at the first two points and why they are so important to Southwest Florida:

Deep Injection Wells

The headlines you will see coming out of yesterday’s board meeting are about “estuary protection wells.” This is their clever re-branding of deep injection wells. These DIW locations will send freshwater from the Kissimmee watershed north of Lake Okeechobee 3,000 feet down into the ground. DIW may be a proven technology, but it is unarguably an effort of last resort.

This a practice that will literally flush fresh water down the tubes. Personally, I would propose calling them “panic button wells.”

 

SFWMD has determined DIW is the only option, because for decades now, the board has made questionable decisions compromising the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. These decisions have at times contradicted science and common sense, and allowed powerful politics and lobbies to control the movement of water.

If we had the political will to acquire the land needed for true Everglades restoration, we’d be ensuring a much brighter future for Florida. Instead, the board has consistently compromised on project locations and funding.

The resulting “restoration” projects are undersized and over budget. Experts agree that the deep water reservoirs currently being fought for will be harmful to Florida’s ecology.  The actions of this district over time have called into question their motivations and if they have any true interest in “estuary protection” at all.

Minimum Flow Levels (MFL)

Perhaps more importantly for Southwest Florida, a group of mayors, including Sanibel’s Kevin Ruane and Cape Coral’s Joe Coviello, among other scientists and stakeholders, spoke publicly at yesterday’s SFWMD board meeting. The topics not only included the economic impact of this summer’s unprecedented harmful discharges and algal blooms but also turned attention on the minimum flow rule in the dry season.

sanibel shoreline
We’re fighting for days like this ~ our children playing on Sanibel shoreline

This is an example of our local leaders trying to be proactive about the amount of freshwater the estuary receives in the dry season. This freshwater is critical to sustaining a thriving brackish water estuary in the Caloosahatchee River, and into Pine Island Sound and nearby bays.

To many attendees and observers, it was apparent that the SFWMD board had already made up their mind prior to hearing public comments from community leaders. The governing board consists of stakeholders from different areas of the district, but all are appointed by the Governor.

The board chose to set the MFL rule at 400 cubic feet per second. The science has clearly shown for many years that a flow around 720 CFS to 800 CFS would be ideal.

Board representatives even went so far as to say that salinity shouldn’t be a part of the evaluation of what is harmful to the estuary. According to John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper, Southwest Florida’s requests for fresh water for the estuary has been denied 13 of the last 16 dry seasons.

Long story, shortened: Community leaders, citizens and state gubernatorial candidates all seem to agree that the SFWMD board needs a dramatic personnel overhaul.