Florida Water Quality Summit held at Broadway Palm theater

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Aerial of Billy’s Creek in Fort Myers. / WINK News

The new year brings with it new lawmakers and fresh eyes to help battle the water quality crisis we’ve been fighting for many months. Activists and experts gathered to face problems and brainstorm possible solutions.

Calusa Water Keeper hosted the Florida Water Quality Summit Monday night at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers.

“We’re about to enter legislative session and everything that is going into place is going to be really kind of a hot topic in the moment,” said Katie Ferron with Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “So it’s really kind of a stay on top of it and make sure it stays a priority during the session.

Local business owners continue to have high stakes involved in the water crisis, as it heavily affected operations and the livelihoods of many in 2018.

“The red tide still persists, and the devastation and the economic collapse is still occurring,” said Karl Diegert, a Matlacha boat captain and business owner.

Diegert is still experiencing the negative effects from last year’s red tide, which experts call historic in duration and severity.

“My own business took a 40-percent hit,” Diegert said. “My motel business, my boat business went to zero.”

Meanwhile homeowners in Cape Coral and beyond couldn’t step outside, as algal blooms permeated their canals, and Billy’s Creek — running for miles through Lee County — still has very high levels of fecal bacteria. Calusa just tested it Saturday.

“Billy’s Creek was, I don’t know, 50 or 100 times higher than everywhere else we tested,” said John Cassani, a water quality expert with Calusa.

“I think to say, ‘we’re over-populated in Florida,’ we don’t see that it’s going to get any better, Karl Diegert said.

Diegert plans to be at tonight’s summit, where experts like Cassani will discuss these problems, possible solutions and progress being made.

That will also involve taking on everything from historic algae blooms we had last year to high levels of fecal bacteria in Billy’s Creek. There are so many water quality issues here in Southwest Florida, but leaders are hopeful change is coming.

“We look forward to the opportunity to move forward and maybe do a better job in 2019 than we did last year,” Cassani said.

Cassani said solutions come with policy changes. And as we enter the new legislative session, he’s asking for people’s help.

“Formulating new policy is not easy, so we need the community backing to do these things,” Cassani said.

Cassani said they are really pushing for a task force specifically for algae and red tide.

The summit runs 6 to 8 p.m. on Colonial Avenue in Fort Myers

Still, Diegert worries.

“Before we see the effects of those remediation efforts, unfortunately, I think we’re going to see complete devastation in Southwest Florida.”

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