Join Us Friday for a Discussion of Algae Blooms, Our Estuary, and RECON

This Friday at 2 pm, SCCF will host a presentation to discuss SCCF’s RECON and Florida Atlantic University’s IRLON, which both provide real-time monitoring of water quality conditions. In the past, samples were collected manually and analyzed in a lab. It was virtually impossible to capture events as they were happening. SCCF’s RECON, the River, Estuary, and Ocean Observing Network  and IRLON, the Indian River Lagoon Observatory Network of Environmental Sensors, provide real-time data. This new capability gives scientists, water quality managers, and the public the ability to observe present conditions and plan for the future. SCCF pioneered the new technology beginning in 2007, and  manages eight sensors in the Caloosahatchee and around Sanibel and Captiva.

Dr. Eric Milbrandt, Director of the SCCF Marine Laboratory, will be presenting data from RECON to show how freshwater and subsequent algae blooms affected the lower estuary as a result of the 2015-2016 El Nino. The record breaking rainfall and flood control policies caused unusually low salinities and high tannins (colored dissolved organic matter) around Sanibel. At locations in the lower estuary, such as McIntyre Creek, in “Ding” Darling NWR, and Tarpon Bay, phytoplankton blooms occurred when Lake Okeechobee and the watershed flows exceeded 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Other observations from the upper Caloosahatchee by Dr. Rick Bartleson showed the unusual blue-green algae bloom that was prevalent for the past 2 months.

Dr. Milbrandt and the SCCF Marine Lab welcome special guest, Dr. Ian Walsh, who will be presenting an analysis from an observing network on the east coast that was modeled after RECON.

Dr. Ian Walsh, Director of Science and Senior Oceanographer Sea-Bird Scienttic and WET Labs, Inc., will provide a perspective on the recent algae crisis based on the data broadcast from the St. Lucie Estuary (SLE) by Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch’s Indian River Lagoon Observatory Network of Environmental Sensors (IRLON).  IRLON consists of Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO) units and weather stations at 10 sites througout the Indian River Lagoon, including 5 sites in the St. Lucie Estuary (LOBO is the manufacturer’s name for what SCCF named RECON).  Dr. Walsh has relied upon the expertise and work of Harbor Branch Drs. Brian Lapointe and Dennis Hanisak in developing this analysis, demonstrating that live data serves as a coalescence mechanism for team building during a crisis.
The program will be followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Milbrandt and Dr. Walsh.
Where: 3333 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel. SCCF Nature Center.

When: Friday, July 29, at 2 pm.

No need to RSVP.

Request Emergency Storage in EAA Now!

Rubio RAW

Wessel speaking with Senator Rubio on water quality issues in Southwest FL

We are pleased to report that our trip to Washington DC to attend the Lagoon-Gulf Action Day sponsored by Congressmen Curt Clawson and Patrick Murphy, and local meetings here in town the past week with Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, affirmed agreement and progress on the possible passage of a federal water bill this year. A water bill, known as the Water Resource and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) and funding for a key project in the bill, the Central Everglades Project (CEP), could be achieved if the bill is passed this year.

While this step is necessary to keep Everglades and estuary restoration moving forward, there is no immediate emergency plan to reduce the ongoing excessive releases the estuaries have suffered through the past five months. Ultimately, the solution is twofold: additional storage and an alternative outlet for water discharge from the lake.

There are two opportunities at hand the Governor can initiate that in no way affect passage of the WRRDA bill. We ask everyone to contact the Governor and urge him to immediately take these two critical actions.

  1. Immediately negotiate use of 16,000 acres of state-owned land currently leased to Florida Crystals for sugar cane production and use this land for emergency storage to relieve the estuaries of some of the excess water flow.  Storage of three feet of water on the 16,000-acre A-2 parcel could redirect 13,441,246,000 gallons from discharging out the estuaries. The South Florida Water Management District owns the land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) that will be eventually be used for a Flow Equalization Basin as part of the Central Everglades Project.
  2. Direct the SFWMD to accelerate planning for the EAA Storage project from its current start date in 2020 to this summer in conjunction with the Lake Okeechobee watershed Storage Planning effort. Following requests made at the SWFL Ecosystem Task Force meeting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy committed that she would agree to accelerate the project if the Governor would accelerate it.  We can’t afford four years to begin planning. The time to begin is now.

If we want change, it is mandatory that we make some noise. The status quo will only change if we demand it.   Please take a moment to use this pre-addressed form to send your own message to Governor Scott.

act now

Cruise the Historic Caloosahatchee – 20 Years of Oxbow Tours

devils elbow300dpiTour the historic upriver Caloosahatchee on a two and a half hour Caloosahatchee Oxbow & Riverlore Cruise, departing from the W.P. Franklin Lock at 1 p.m.  Explore the meanders of the Caloosahatchee back to a time when a waterfall served as the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee and settlers braved living amongst the wilderness.

Celebrating our 20th year, cruises will be available the following dates:

  • Feb. 14 (Sunday)
  • Feb. 28 (Sunday)
  • March 13 (Sunday)
  • April 10 (Sunday)
  • May 8 (Sunday)

The 2.5-hour adventure begins by locking through the W.P. Franklin Lock in Olga.  Heading east toward Alva, we enter the historic bends of the river and revisit the activities of the pioneers who traveled the same river to find paradise.  Stories of the settlements and their adventures are blended with an understanding of the river’s oxbows, the wild creatures that call it home and the challenges the river faces.

Rae Ann Wessel, a river researcher, long-time river advocate, historian and SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) Natural Resource Policy Director, guides the tour.  Our vessel is the stable and spacious 41-passenger River Queen pontoon boat that features daily Manatee tours.   All seats have a great view for photographs and bird watching.

WaterQualityTimeless-noCaloosInset-PressCruise departs 1 at p.m. for each trip from the W.P. Franklin Lock & Dam off SR 80 in Olga.  Private group cruises can be scheduled by appointment.

Advance reservations required and payment is due at time of reservation.  Cruises depart at 1 p.m. and return by 3:30 p.m.  Tickets are $45 per person. Please note that reservations must be made by noon Friday, May 8  for the May 10 cruise.   Please call SCCF at 239-472-2329.  Space is limited.  We look forward to taking you back in time!

Take Action on Lake Okeechobee Releases

Redfish Pass 1-31 Leland GarvinJanuary 2016 was the wettest since record keeping began in 1932 with 570% of average rainfall according to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).  The unusually high rainfall is associated with a very strong El Nino condition that is expected to cause significantly higher rain through April.  This means our normal dry season will likely be a washed out, dark water from high discharges may impact our beach tourism economy and high flows will impact the estuary spring spawning of fish, shellfish and seagrass.

There are short and long term actions we are asking water managers to take.  Please use the  information in this message to send your thoughts to them asking them to take action on these options to Stop the Harm.

Please write to the SFWMD Governing Board!

Please use some of the talking points below to write a custom email to the South Florida Water Management District. Governor Scott and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

The problem

  •  Lake O water levels are rising despite unlimited releases to both coastal estuaries.
  •  Today the lake is 16.4 ft nearly a foot above the lake level management zone, 3 feet above average for this time of year.  The last time the lake was this high was December 2005.
  • Due to heavy rainfall throughout the region the majority of our flows -over 80%- are coming from the watershed between the lake and western lock where the water enters the estuary.
  • The graph (right) shows where Caloosahatchee water comes from. The last week of January, 12% of the inflow was from Lake O (blue color),  82% was from our watershed (gray and green). Most of January there was no flow from the lake.
  •  Very high rainfall the last week of January produced flooding and excess water throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem. While the Corps of Engineers was engaging emergency discharges to lower the lake, the SFWMD was simultaneously backpumping from two structures south of the lake adding 47,000 acre feet of polluted water back into the lake. This required the Corps to further increase discharges to the estuaries.
  • Backpumping must be stopped because it moves the problem from south of the lake to the estuaries.  The water  should instead be held on the 700,000 acres of farmland between the lake and Water Conservation Areas and Stormwater Treatment areas.
  • When emergency conditions exist, we must engage these lands to store water and not move it into the lake where it creates additional strain on the lake and ultimately will be discharged to the coastal estuaries.

Storage is the Solution

  • The ultimate solution is storage. The priority location where there is no storage is south of the lake.
  • Over 20 years of scientific studies and reports have cited storage south of the lake as the one solution that would provide benefits for many parts of the system.
  • Storage south of the lake would benefit Lake O,  reduce excess , harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, would provide additional water supply for Ag in the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) and provide needed water for  the Everglades and Florida Bay.
  • In addition to storage south of the lake 280,000 acre-feet of storage capacity is needed in the Caloosahatchee watershed. The SFWMD determined this additional storage was needed after the devastating discharges in 2005. That event highlighted that the Caloosahatchee watershed needs a total of 450,000 acre-feet of storage, a great deal more than the 170,000 acre-feet of the C-43 West Basin Reservoir. In 2005 the District Executive Director pledged to Sanibel City Council that they were identifying locations where water could be held so we would not have a repeat of that harmful event.
  • 11 years later the District has only just started construction on the C-43 reservoir which will take four
  • years to complete. C43 will provide approximately one quarter of the watershed storage needed and only in a restricted region south of the river. We need another 280,000 acre-feet of storage capacity in other areas of our watershed.

11 Years Is Too Long To Wait
We Need to Act now on Short term and Long Term solutions.  We urge the District to consider the following:

Short term

  • We ask the SFWMD not to exacerbate the problem of high water levels in Lake O by backpumping.  Initiate discharges from the lake to all other public and private lands in the C&SF system including the 700,000 acres of EAA land.
  • To address funding we ask the SFWMD revisit the tax rate they have rolled back year after year.  A rate of less than $10/year/household.  These roll backs have significantly hampered the District’s budget and operations.  How much more are we spending in emergency operations every few years?  Projects provide a better Return on Investment than emergency operations
  • We urge the SFWMD to work with the state legislature to Support the Legacy Florida bill HB 989/SB 1168  and  use Amendment 1 funding to build the storage needed south of the lake and in our watershed.
  • Add monitoring stations in the Caloosahatchee watershed between the locks to determine where the excessively high flows originate.
  •  Identify projects in those high flow areas where projects can be pursued.

Long Term

  • Reopen the discussion and restart planning for storage south of the lake where benefits will be gained for the lake, estuaries, agricultural water supply, Everglades and Florida Bay. Sanibel Mayor Ruane and U.S. Rep Curt Clawson are meeting with property owners south of the lake to negotiate options.
  • Support a 2016 WRDA bill to authorize and appropriate funding for projects.

  act now

“Researchers monitor seagrass in Caloosahatchee”

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Rick Bartleson, a research scientist for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation documents shoal grass in the Caloosahatchee River.(Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press, Andrew West/The News-Press)

Re-posted from The News-Press (c), Sept. 30, 2015

The scientists couldn’t see their feet in the meter-deep water of the Caloosahatchee River last week — tannins from freshwater runoff had turned the river a deep reddish brown.

But Mark Thompson and RIck Bartleson of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory had a job to do: Go underwater with masks and snorkels and document the density of shoal grass (often known by its genus name, Halodule) on the river bottom near Iona.

In a study dating back to 2004, marine lab researchers are looking at the effects of high freshwater flows on the river’s seagrass species (shoal grass, turtle grass and manatee grass).

During the dry season, little rain falls, so little fresh water is added to the flow of the Caloosahatchee; during the wet season, rain falling on the Caloosahatchee watershed between the mouth of the river and Lake Okeechobee runs into the river, lowering salinity the estuary.

As Okeechobee fills during the rainy season, water managers release fresh water down the river to prevent flooding in the communities surrounding the lake. Continue reading

Business leaders of Southwest Florida tell Gov. Scott to “Buy the Land!”

Letter to Governor Scott and the 2015 Legislature from business leaders of Southwest Florida

By Dreamtime Entertainment, compliments of Jensen’s Twin Palms Marina.

Speakers included the following:

  •  John Lai, Lee County Hotel Association
  • Sandy Stillwell, Stillwell Enterprises
  • Shane Spring, VIP Realty
  • Paul McCarthy, McCarthy’s Marina and Captiva Cruises
  • Marty Harrity, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar
  • Jim Collier, Tarpon Hunters Fishing Club
  • Denice Beggs, Beggs Realtors
  • Ann Brady, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
  • Eric Pfeifer, Pfeifer Realty
  • Dall Burnsed, Santiva Saltwater Fishing
  • Bud Nocera, Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce
  • Sarita Van Vleck, artists and resident
  • Nancy MacPhee, Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau

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