In a letter responding to the mayors from Lee County that are seeking transparency from the South Florida Water Management District, Glades area mayors make the case for why our communities need flood protection. To read their letter, you can download it here.
February 11, 2016
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Four current mayors and one former mayor of cities south of Lake Okeechobee took offense to not being included in a Wednesday meeting with the mayors of Lee County’s six municipalities about water releases from the lake, the group wrote in a three-page letter on Thursday.
“Those of us who have represented the hardworking men and women in the lakeside communities understand the concern and frustration felt in the coastal communities as a result of the continued fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary,” wrote the ‘Lake O’ group, consisting of the mayors of Pahokee, Belle Glade, Clewiston and South Bay, and former Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser. “However, we are deeply troubled by the lack of understanding and factual information on the issues important to all our communities.”
The growing battle is over the billions of gallons of murky, brown water being released daily from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. Recent rainfall has resulted in record water levels at the lake, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release maximum levels of water.
The Corps of Engineers say the water releases prevent the dike that holds the lake water from being damaged or collapsing, which would result in flooding similar to such during Hurricane Katrina. But the Lee County mayors say the dark water has created an eyesore for tourists and businesses along area beaches and has negatively impacted the local economy.
Gov. Rick Scott publicly entered the debate on Thursday, calling on the Corps of Engineers to raise water levels to help alleviate flooding in the Everglades Water Conservation Areas and limit the release of water from Lake Okeechobee. Raising the water level of the L-29 canal to 8.5 feet would allow “substantial volumes” of water to be moved from Water Conservation Area 3 to the Everglades National Park through the Shark River Slough, Scott wrote in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.
The Corps of Engineers did not immediately return a request for comment.
The ‘Lake O’ group questioned why the Lee County mayors want more transparency from the South Florida Water Management District, even through more than 95 percent of the brown water comes from north of the lake, they said.
Water back-pumped into the lake from the south adds less than an inch of water to the lake, the letter said.
Citing SFWMD scientists, the group added that:
The quality of water from south of the lake is no different than water from other sources “except that it had lower nutrient levels than many other sources” that feed into the lake.
It would be extremely difficult for water to make its way from southeastern pumps to discharge sites on the other side of the lake’s littoral zone.
Less than three percent of lake water comes from back-pumping.
About 70-80 percent of the flow to the Caloosahatchee River is from local run-off.
Citing a SFWMD water quality report, the group wrote that the back-pumped water is cleaner than most storm water drainage “and not some toxic water that is different from anyone else’s storm water.”
“These are critical facts that would have been extremely helpful to your discussion this morning,” the group wrote.