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Issue 662

10/17/2013 at 3:40pm

Dirty WaterCounty Natural Resources Director Ottolini
Weighs in on Water Issues

Even though the afternoon rains have stopped and it seems like the dry season is finally upon us, freshwater laden with nutrient pollution continues to pour into our estuary, causing salinity levels to remain below the lethal level for seagrass and oyster beds and wreaking havoc with the eco-system. Last week, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was lowering the amount of water released from the Franklin Lock to 3,000cfs (cubic feet per second) but scientists are saying that is still too much.

On October 10th, a group of local officials - including Lee County Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini - traveled to Washington D.C. to speak before a special committee convened by Congressmen Trey Radel and Patrick Murphy. Ottolini also spoke at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce at their monthly luncheon at Charley's Boat House last week where he told chamber members, "I can't think of a community that is more affected by the water discharges down the river than Fort Myers Beach.” We met with Ottolini on Tuesday morning to find out what he thinks about our water woes and what individuals can do to help.

"We went to D.C. to promote concerns we had for the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee and how that's caused a detriment to our economy,” he said. "The feds are looking at a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that is absolutely critical as it contains projects like the C-43 Reservoir and others. Things like C-43 are so important because 170,000 acre feet of water can be stored there and treated with marshes that will filter out the excess nitrogen and phosphorous so that 'clean' water can be sent downstream when the lake is low and no water is coming to the estuary to maintain the balance it needs.”

Ottolini talked about how the releases have created essentially freshwater conditions all the way out past the Sanibel Lighthouse, and projects like the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) would use lands purchased from US Sugar to recreate the natural flow way south to the Everglades.

"Some folks are promoting a project called 'Plan Six', and while I think it's a great idea as it includes a much larger flow way south, it does have a huge price tag because it requires the purchase of more land and 'all the works' - since you cannot, by federal order - send water laden with phosphorous into Everglades National Park (ENP),” he said. "I'd like to see some kind of decree making it illegal to send that kind of water to the estuaries too - that's pretty frustrating.”

Ottolini told us that when he was in D.C., he and a coalition made up of representatives from the other 16 counties in the South Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) met collectively with Congressmen Tom Rooney (R), Patrick Murphy (D), Trey Radel (R) and staff from the offices of Bill Young (R), John Mica (R), Dennis Ross (R) and Bill Posey (R) as well as the Everglades Caucus and Senator Bill Nelson (D).

"We told them we'd like to see projects get done such as the rest of the Kissimmee River Basin - because if you clean that up, that means the water coming into the lake is clean, C-43 on the east coast and C-44 on the west and rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike so more water can stay in the lake.”

Ottolini said it is just as important to work with state and local agencies - including agriculture - as 50% of the water coming into our estuary comes from the Caloosahatchee Watershed east of the lake.

"We've been working with these folks to establish Basic Management Plans and we are working on a plan to address our issues with storm water that includes things like septic tanks in rural Lee County,” he said. "What people need to realize is what you do in your backyard ultimately ends up in the Gulf, so it's more cost effective to implement some kind of control at the source. To remove just a pound of nitrogen from the water costs between $500 and $2,000, as plants have to assimilate it out. Most projects involve vast amounts of land and filter marshes as that water can't just sit there, it has to be cleaned before it's good to send anywhere.”

Ottolini said that individuals need to remain in touch with local representatives and encourage them to push forward with the projects he mentioned, as well as police themselves and what they do.

"Once WRDA gets passed - and with the government shutdown that may not be moving forward for a bit - the next step is appropriations to get it funded,” he said. "It's going to take the cooperation of everyone from congressmen to individuals watching what they put in their yards to keep this from happening again.”

­Meanwhile, it doesn't appear the releases will slow down anytime in the next couple of weeks. During a teleconference with Army Corps Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, Jacksonville District Deputy Commander for South Florida on Wednesday afternoon, he and Public Affairs Specialist John Campbell told media that while there has been less than an inch of rain during the past five days, the 6-14 day projections call for 40% higher rainfall than normal.

"As of midnight on Tuesday, October 15th, 1 million gallons of water have passed through Moore Haven Lock (Lake Okeechobee) and 2.1 million gallons of water have gone through Franklin Lock,” he said. "The lake is down a little - 15.63 feet from 15.83 - but it's too early to get optimistic about the beginning of the dry season as the outlook is still calling for higher than normal rainfall.”


Keri Hendry Weeg