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Lee County Mayors Meet Over Water Back Pumping, Storage

Topher Forhecz/WGCU

Six Lee County mayors met Wednesday to talk about solutions to water discharges flowing into the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee.

The South Florida Water Management District back pumped water into the lake in late January to avoid local flooding. That water eventually went into the river.

It was one of several topics covered in the meeting.

The mayors are worried about water quality and the local tourism-based economy.

They say are looking for what they can do on the local, state and federal level.

At the meeting, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane said they want to know how the district decides to back pump.

“The public wants to understand what steps they went through to make this decision. Because we certainly have identified lands… where we can actually potentially put that water and didn’t need to be back pumped into Lake O.”

South Florida Water Management Districtboard member Mitch Hutchcraftsaid back pumping is required as part of their permit once water levels hit certain points in canals in urban areas south of the Lake.

He also said there is nowhere else to put the water.

“Everywhere that we have public land that we could store water, there’s water stored there,” he said. “These rains have flooded all of the properties south of the lake, all of our conservations areas.”

The mayors also discussed local water storage options.

The want to explore storing water through the county’s conservation land management and purchasing program Conservation 20/20.

They say they need more storage to accommodate the discharges and the water coming from the Caloosahatchee watershed.   

The mayors will take these calls back to their councils for review. They plan to continue discussing these issues in future meetings.

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News.