Gov. Rick Scott was in Fort Myers Wednesday surrounded by state, local and federal officials to discuss his plan to deal with the escalating water quality problems in Southwest and Southeast Florida due to ongoing water releases from Lake Okeechobee.
He announced a $90 million plan to move water south of Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades instead of into estuaries east and west of the lake.
Water quality in the Caloosahatchee River to the West of Lake O and in St. Lucie to the east has been degraded because of releases from the Lake. The releases have been deemed necessary to protect the integrity of the dyke that surrounds it by officials,
Cheryl Anne Lane runs a residential cleaning business on Ft. Myers Beach. She said the dirty water has taken a financial toll.
“Getting calls from several owners from up north who are getting cancellations for rentals next season because they are hearing that the water quality is so poor,” she said.
Scott said he is well aware of the problem and is offering state money to build another bridge on the Tamiami Trail to allow more water from the lake to flow south, instead of east and west.
“We have stepped up,” he said during Wednesday’s press conference. “The water management district has stepped up to store water. They stepped up to put money into clean water. They put in the $3 million andft the $16 million. We are doing the right thing on the historical treatment areas. We are working the Department of the interior in regards to Tamiami Trial. We are doing the right things.”
However, Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said the governor’s plan falls short.
“While this will move some water to the south, which is positive, it is literally a drop in the bucket to the amount of water that’s needed to move to the south in order to relieve the harmful high discharges we are experiencing right now from Lake Okeechobee,” she said.
There have been pending plans to purchase land in the Everglades agricultural area south of the lake now used to grow sugarcane.
But Julie Hill-Gabriel with Audubon of Florida said her group is encouraged by the Governor’s plan.
“At the moment we have a plan on the table, so I think it is an incredibly huge moment of progress to get that underway and actually start to see some immediate benefits that don’t involve sometimes what is a lengthy process of focusing on land acquisition,” she said.
The $90 million plan to move more water south includes funding from the federal government.