STATE OF EMERGENCY?
Algae blooms are taking over SWFL waterways. And even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced long-term plans to curb the problem, neighbors and some elected officials want solutions now.
“I think it’s been a real big issue,” said Fort Myers resident Janet Dejesus.
Weeks after the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to prevent inland flooding, SWFL is still dealing with the foul aftermath in the form of blue-green algae.
“I moved here because of the beauty of the river and the real color of the river, and the real color of the ocean. And every day, more and more of that is taken away from me,” Dejesus said.
Traces of the algal blooms have made their way as far west as the southern tip of Cape Coral and some fear it could hurt more than just quality of life for coastal residents.
“This is HORRIBLE. And this is going to affect us, our tourists, our kids, our grand kids, their kids. This is horrible,” said Lehigh resident Wendi Muldihill.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced plans Thursday to expedite improvements on the Herbert Hoover Dike, but that move is only expected to decrease releases from Lake O by 2022.
“Year after year we’ve been dealing with this issue, and we’ve got to put a stop to it,” said Rep. Dane Eagle.
Eagle is leading a delegation of SWFL lawmakers to do just that. They wrote a letter urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency which they hope will lead to more immediate solutions.
“If there’s a state of emergency, the governor can bypass the legislature and work on some of those things, direct his agencies to focus on the immediate issues at hand,” Eagle said.
And plenty of people say that whatever steps are taken must be taken soon.
“And there needs to be a plan of action. That needs to take place. And it needs to happen now,”Muldihill said.
Gov. Scott’s office released the following statement in response to the letter:
“Gov. Scott has taken action to combat the algal blooms resulting from the Army Corps of Engineers’ water releases from Lake Okeechobee. This includes ordering the Department of Environmental Protection to issue an emergency declaration to move more water south of the Lake and installing water monitoring stations on the Caloosahatchee River so water experts have more data to mitigate the problem. Also, he signed a bill that expedited the EAA reservoir and secured full federal funding to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike three years ahead of schedule – something Congress has failed to do for decades. He will continue to identify ways to secure the clean water that Florida residents deserve and will never stop fighting to alleviate the federal Corps’ harmful water discharges.”
TRACKING THE ALGAE
A SWFL pilot got a birds-eye view of the green muck spreading throughout the Caloosahatchee River.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous that this is going on in the year 2018,” said pilot Chris Wittman with Captains for Clean Water.
Wittman is outraged with the green algae that has been affecting both Florida waters and his business as a local fishing guide.
“People are just tired of seeing this year after year, month after month, and every year it gets worse,” Wittman said.
So on Friday, Wittman went up in a small plane to show his Facebook followers how widespread the algae is, extending all the way from Lake Okeechobee to the end of the Caloosahatchee River.
“As you can see, there is green algae riding the locks everywhere,” Wittman said.
He adds that the worst places are the Franklin Locks, east by Labelle and by downtown Fort Myers.
Wittman created the organization Captains for Clean Water two years ago to try to shed light on the ongoing water issues.
“We didn’t set out with a plan to start an organization. It’s just that we were ticked off fishing guides and wanted to bring these issues to the forefront,” he said.
The organization keeps track of the environmental and economic impacts of green algae.
“Throughout the next couple of weeks, I will be both on the water and up in the plane documenting the health and the status of our water,” Wittman said.