Your Donations at Work: Providing Scientific Input on the Lake Okeechobee Releases

darkwater2116At SCCF, we know the best way to address the current water quality crisis is by working with like-minded leaders in well-informed cooperation. Your support allows SCCF to inform policy with science.

On February 9, SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel sent an action alert urging SCCF members to write to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) about the very high volume of dark water and polluted runoff coming down the Caloosahatchee into the estuary waters surrounding our islands.

Captioned RAWOn February 10, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane — who has also been actively urging Sanibel residents to get involved — convened a meeting of the mayors of Lee County’s six municipalities. Rae Ann was invited to join the elected officials to inform the discussion with science and context for the issues which she has been engaged in for the past 20 years.

Rae Ann and the SCCF Marine Lab scientists coordinate with the City of Sanibel, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and our other regional partners in preparing a weekly Caloosahatchee Conditions Report, that provides a snapshot of local water conditions. Rae Ann prepares the report, which goes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the SFWMD, Florida Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, our congressional and state legislative delegations, elected County  and City officials and various local stakeholders. The weekly report is science-based, reporting data from SCCF’s RECON water quality sensors and additional targeted sampling by marine lab staff.

On February 11, Governor Scott called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action to stop the releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. By the end of that day, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued orders that allow the state operational flexibility in managing  water.

At the federal level, the U.S. Army Corps pursued a deviation to move water south under Tamiami Trail through the Shark River Slough. These operational changes represent an incremental step in “pulling the plug at the bottom of the system” so the system can operate the way Everglades restoration is intended to work.

Yesterday, on February 15, water had started to move south. With over-saturated conditions throughout the system, it will take weeks to reduce the discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and we feel the impact of these actions.

Whether it’s a local development issue, water management practices, or funding for local water quality projects, there are few others in Southwest Florida who can bring the knowledge and expertise that Rae Ann does to the issues facing our region. We are so grateful to the SCCF members who support her work through their Annual Fund Drive gifts.

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