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John Cassani, original Calusa Waterkeeper, stepping down as head of clean-water alliance

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Calusa Waterkeeper
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Special to WGCU
John Cassani, the original Calusa Waterkeeper, is stepping down on Jan. 1 after six years

John Cassani, the first person to be named Calusa Waterkeeper, is stepping down from the position he has held at the clean water environmental alliance for six years.

Calusa Waterkeeper is among the most active environmental groups in Southwest Florida using a combination of staff scientist, experts, and a cadre of volunteers.

One of Cassani’s priorities has been to keep the group focused on clean-water initiatives, whether for drinking, swimming, and fishing with a special emphasis on the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

The non-profit is also focused on the protection of the Caloosahatchee River’s estuary, Lake Okeechobee, Nicodemus Slough, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay, the near-shore waters of Lee County, and their watersheds.

The waterkeeper organization conducts testing for water contaminants like fecal bacteria and is working on creating new ways of researching the health risks of airborne algal toxin during red tide and blue-green algae outbreaks.

They have also been a non-stop overseer of the Army Corps of Engineers’ releases of water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River to make sure the federal agency doesn’t release to much or too little, harming the watershed.

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Calusa Waterkeepers
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Special to WGCU
John Cassani

Cassani also lead the organization at a time when it is educating the public and scientifically studying harmful algae blooms, nutrient and sediment loading in Cape Coral’s canals, and monitoring for bacteria in places where the group thinks the State of Florida is falling short.

Their restoration efforts have included an Estero Bay restoration program to reduce the amount of nutrient pollution including fecal bacteria, and to help the community surrounding Billy’s Creek to develop plans to restore the historic Fort Myers tributary.

Calusa Waterkeeper began in 1995 as Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, also known as Riverwatch. They were admitted to Waterkeeper Alliance in 2015 as an affiliate. In December 2016, the group achieved full member status in Waterkeeper Alliance, adopting the new name Calusa Waterkeeper, Inc.

Cassani came to work in Lee County in 1978 and worked in local government positions managing waterways of Southwest Florida.

His service on advisory boards and involvement with land and water conservation led to recognition from various civic groups, including the Florida Audubon Society, Estero Bay Agency on Bay Management, Lee County Government, the Everglades Coalition, the American Fisheries Society, and the Alberta provincial government.

In November 2016, Cassani accepted the position of Calusa Waterkeeper, a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance.

“John’s service to the Calusa Waterkeeper organization and the people of Southwest Florida has been immense and cannot be overstated,” said Jim Watkins, president of the Calusa Waterkeepers board. “This is a time to honor John’s commitment and leadership, working for better water quality conditions in Florida to protect the public health."

To acknowledge Cassani’s efforts over the last six years, the board of directors of the organization gave him the title of Calusa Waterkeeper Emeritus.

“Emeritus is a rarely-bestowed honorary title of a person who has made significant and exceptional contributions to an organization,” Watkins said.

Cassani said the honor has been all his.

“The past six years have been a wild but rewarding journey as the first Calusa Waterkeeper,” he said. “It was an honor working with a team that included a special group of volunteers, staff and other dedicated water warriors that helped build the Calusa Waterkeeper organization from the ground up.”

Cassani said he plans to remain active with the group even after he retires in various volunteer and advisory capacities.

His resignation is effective January 1.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.

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