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Missy Layfield - Editor
08/29/2013 at 4:55pm Delete

Water Words Matter

There’s a whole lot of attention focused on the water releases from Lake Okeechobee these days and rightly so. After a summer of record rainfall, the artificially engineered drainage system that is the Kissimmee River, Lake O, the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River have been talked with handling the amount of water that has fallen on the southern half of the state.As the lake has risen the Army Corps has done the only thing their guidebook, the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) allows, open the gates and drain the lake down the two rivers in order to avoid stressing the Herbert Hoover Dike and the communities it protects. The water releases have triggered algae blooms, hypoxic dead zones, low salinity and dark water causing seagrass die-off.

This has been happening for years as the 5-year old LORS rules our estuaries. The Army Corps has no choice. Last Thursday, Colonel Dodd testified that he didn’t have anything to do with water quality – that was a state issue.

Interesting concept.He’s the man with his hand on the valve that is flushing the polluted water down the river in both directions, and according to him, it doesn’t matter what the quality of that water is, or what environmental damage it’s doing. That’s not his job.

The deeper I delve into the water problems in south Florida, the more convoluted the picture becomes. It’s like there are 4-5 shell games going on at once.

Last Thursday, I sat through 7 hours of testimony at the State Senate Select Committee looking at Lake Okeechobee water releases. Let me paraphrase what I heard there:

It’s not the Corps’s fault; they’re only trying to save the thousands of people living around Lake O from a dike failure.

It’s not the state’s fault; they’ve passed a bucketful of laws to solve the water storage and quality problem. They just haven’t funded them or withdrew funding when the Water Management District’s budget was slashed by the Governor.

The state doesn’t have any money to fund them now. It’s up to those complaining about water quality to find ways to pay for any solutions proposed.
08/22/2013 at 3:08pm Delete

Trust

Trust is a little word for an enormous concept. Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. And it’s an important aspect of our relationship with our readers. We’ve declared that one of our goals is to provide impartial information that our readers can rely on. Readers must have confidence that what they read in the Island Sand Paper is true and accurate.If we print something in an article that we later find to be false or misleading, we print a correction.

There are some aspects of being a tourism destination that can cause some angst in our office. Like many Islanders, we are committed to promoting Fort Myers Beach as a great place to live and work and play because we truly believe it IS a great place to live and work and play.

But what happens when our perfect paradise shows its less than perfect side? Every community has challenges to face whether it’s crime or natural disasters or just plain human foibles. Should we highlight those aspects of our community?

In a tourism economy, there is tendency to overlook occasional problems, not necessarily sweep them under the rug, but not shine a bright spotlight on them either. Visitors, they say, aren’t much interested in hearing about car accidents, sex offenders and D.U.I. cases. They’re here to have a good time and forget their troubles. Let’s not air our dirty linen.

However, our readers include a fair number of visitors plus the Island locals who make their home or living on the beach. They are very much interested in anything that impacts their life or livelihood

Lately we’ve been challenged with how to cover the water quality issues raised with the Lake Okeechobee releases. We’ve had occasional water quality issues before, when the gates were opened at Lake O, but it’s usually been for a short period of time. The water releases impact both life and livelihood for many people, so we’ve been all over this story. By doing so, we are advocating for the businesses that rely on our water quality and the jobs that are at risk when our water quality is threatened.

We also know that this month’s dark water is pretty rare and has raised some challenges for Islanders in the hospitality business.
08/15/2013 at 5:32pm Delete

Warning Bell

Word arrived this week that Governor Rick Scott plans to file a lawsuit in U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Georgia. Georgia has been using so much of the water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins that the quantity and quality of the water reaching Apalachicola Bay is insufficient to maintain the Apalachicola Bay oyster beds. The higher salinity in the bay caused by the low river flow is killing their oyster industry.

I have not been able to get this news out of my head since it came across my desk. Mostly because of the parallels to our own historic, current and future water quality issues here in south Florida. Apalachicola’s problem is too little water. Our estuary suffers every dry season from too little water as the sugar industry gets first dibs on water from Lake O. Then comes rainy season & there’s too much water, so it gets sent to both coasts, drowning the estuaries with polluted "fresh” water.

Scott’s press statement could easily apply to the damage that is happening right now on both coasts as a result of Lake O releases. Let’s try his statement substituting our water issues:

"Florida will bring suit in the U.S. Supreme Court next month to stop (the sugar industry’s) unchecked consumption of water that threatens the existence of (south Florida estuary) fisheries and the future economic development of this region.”

Like that would ever happen.

In Lee County, our normally clear blue/green water is dark brown. The sea grasses that shelter and feed our sea life are dead or dying. Our oyster beds at Iona are dead or dying due to low salinity. There are algae and phytoplankton blooms scattered throughout the Estero estuary.Canals in Cape Coral are covered in duckweed, further blocking light to sea life. Canals on Fort Myers Beach have algae blooms floating on the brown water. Seagrass has been washing up on beaches and floating in canals for weeks, torn from the riverbed by the increased water releases.

On the east coast, the Indian River Lagoon, fed by Lake Okeechobee via the St. Lucie River, is experiencing dolphin, manatee and fish kills. Algae covers the water surface in many areas. Indian River Lagoon tourism, is taking a hit, just as Lee County’s is.
08/08/2013 at 2:05pm Delete

Island Kudos

It’s always a good idea to share good news. We at the Island Sand Paper like to use this space every couple months to focus on all the good things happening in our community and the many people who make our island a better place to live, work and play. Kudos go out to…

Beach School students, staff, parents and community on the school’s recent "A” rating. It is reflective of the efforts of many in our school and community. Great job!

The Fort Myers Beach Little League and Soccer volunteers for giving our Island youth the opportunity to play. Everyone involved – coaches, umpires, concession stand workers - all make this summer tradition possible.

Members of the Estero Island Garden Club for their ongoing efforts to spruce up our Island, whether it’s the garden at Bay Oaks or the pots in Time Square, our beautiful island looks even better thanks to these hard workers.

Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts, the FMB Film Festival and Bay Oaks for hosting a Summer Film Series allowing Islanders the chance to see some films by local filmmakers.

Ostego Bay Foundation for hosting the 4th of July Kids’ Fishing Tournament allowing Island kids a fun event with prizes while learning about fishing. They also sponsored a golf tournament to raise funds for the fishing event.

Operation Oklahoma Rescue coordinated by Beach Baptist Church, Dennis Mensinger and Alicia Hanskamp for collecting donations and hosting two fund-raisers for the victims of Moore, OK tornadoes earlier this year.

Edison Sailing Center for offering their sailing class at the Mound House again this summer. The Caloosahatchee Marching and Chowder Society provided scholarships so all kids had a chance to participate.

Harry Chapin Food Bank, the source of much of the food distributed by Island food banks, for being recognized as the highest ranking non-profit in Florida and one of the top 11 charities in the country by Charity Navigator.