New plan aims to unite cities in fight for water quality

Author: Rachael Rafanelli
Published: Updated:

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Many residents remember how brown and murky local waterways got last year, because of those aggressive water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Now, there’s a new push in Southwest Florida to stop it from happening again.

The plan involves more storage for all the water coming from the lake. But local leaders say, for this to work, they need a lot of cooperation, so when you go to a beach, you won’t have to see brown water like last year.

For months last summer, a plume of dark colored water released from Lake Okeechobee blanketed Lee County’s beaches.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane is on a mission to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He’s hoping to unite the five cities of Lee County, conservation groups and politicians to come together and support a new report.

The 24 page report outlines a plan of action for short and long term water management solutions.

Ruane says one goal is to increase storage at Lake Okeechobee by 6 inches. “If we could hold six more inches up at the lake, convince the Army Corp to do that, that’s one ask. Then during the dry season when we need water, if we held six more inches, we could release more,” Ruane explained.

Another goal is to increase water storage at the local level. “Lee County is going to look at the 20/20 program, and see if there’s other ways to store water,” Ruane said.

He says money for water management adds up to millions of dollars, and will have to come from the federal government, state, and cities themselves.

He says, it’s not about raising your taxes, but allocating money into different projects.

“We’re going to continue to ask for more money. Obviously there’s a correlation between storage, water quality, and jobs,” he said.

Mayor Ruane hopes local cities will sign off on that report within 6 months, and then bring it to state lawmakers and the federal government.

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