THE HIGH TIDE

Sen. Bill Nelson (D) Visits SWFL for Water Issues

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Creds: Alexis Queen

Creds: Alexis Queen

Creds: Alexis Queen

Alexis Queen, Editor in Chief

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5 JULY 2018 – Florida Senator, Bill Nelson, visited downtown  Fort Myers today to speak with local scientists, policymakers, and citizens about the issues surrounding the pollution of Southwest Florida waters as a result of water releases and algae buildup. The Fort Myers High Tide was there to cover it and has the basics for you.

The Issue

Alexis Queen
Creds: Google Maps

Alexis Queen
Creds: Google Maps

In 1930, the US Army Corp of Engineers built the Herbert Hoover Dike in response to a 1928 storm that caused a mass flooding of Lake Okeechobee. In the years that followed, the USACE built a series of dikes (76 miles of such) and other machinery to relieve the Lake of its overflow by redirecting the water into the Caloosahatchee River. While this does prevent flooding of the Okeechobee, it comes with a hefty price. With increasing water levels due to an influx of tropical storms and hurricanes, the water releases are becoming larger and more often, increasing the pollution that is released into the Caloosahatchee River. This pollution is killing fish and wildlife that depend on the River for habitat, not to mention the tourism industries that are taking a hit. Additionally, with the releases being consistent, even daily, the toxic algae blooms that are growing in the river do not have time to be flushed out by the tides.

 

What’s Being Done

 

Alexis Queen
Cred: @SenBillNelson

This issue, as Senator Bill Nelson said on Thursday, “does not exist in a vacuum and is in part resulting from the increasing temperature of the globe and rising water levels.” (Commonly referred to as the trend of Global Warming). At the national level, there are three major bills being introduced to combat climate change. Those are S. 1071: Duplicative Green Building Program Evaluation Act, H.R. 3533: Coastal State Climate Preparedness Act of 2017, and H.R. 4586: Geoengineering Research Evaluation Act of 2017. Locally, a 2014 proposal by Nelson to use disaster relief funds to alleviate pollution issues is in the process of being reauthorized by the House of Representatives. Additionally, there is a push by Nelson and his colleagues to build new reservoirs to hold the water. However, this is a costly endeavor, pricing out at about 200 million on average. With the cooperation of the Army Corps of Engineers, there is a Water Resources Development Act that would green light funding and projects to protect the water, with the additional goal of taking steps to reverse the pollution already present in waters. However, at the meeting downtown, many local fisherman and tourism officials expressed concern over the idea that these meetings have taken place, and nothing has changed. Nelson responded to these criticisms by stating that “these things don’t happen overnight and they’ll need more time and funding before we see real change.” Nelson emphasized that much of his ideas are contingent on the cooperation of the US Army Corp, and their part in halting the releases or diverting them to alternate routes, such as through various highways. However, it should be noted that Nelson portrays a liberal point of view and other viewpoints do exist.

 

Student Opinion

In response to an Instagram Story coverage of the meeting,  Landen Luettich (12) said the following:

“This is a problem but not as bad as people think. The algae bloom kills fish and makes the water gross but the reason it has been brought up is that a while back, we had a wet winter and they had to release water during tourist season. Besides the algae bloom, the fishing doesn’t really change other than the fact that the water isn’t clear. The easiest solution to this problem is to send more water to the other coast of Florida and let it be picked up by the jet stream current, where it will be deluded and out of our waters very quickly. However, since the other coast has substantially more tourism, it will never happen.”

Alexis Queen
Creds: Google Maps

Luettich’s response to the problem closely aligns with that of US Army Corp of Engineers, who, in a 2018 statement, said that they would seek opportunities to release the water to the St. Lucie Estuary on the Eastern Coast of Florida.

The Breakdown

This is an issue quickly being lost in the political sphere. It’s an environmental issue at its core, but there are still economic and political factors that must be taken into consideration. Whether we opt to divert the water across the state to the East Coast, build more reservoirs, or invest in global warming legislation, something needs to be done before further damage is enacted.

 

What do you think the State of Florida should be doing with this water? Should this be tackled at the national level concerning global warming? Let us know in the comments below or at @fmhshightide.

Update: At 1:15 PM, it was announced that the Army Corp approved Nelson’s request to speed up work to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, an act that is intended to provide a location for more water to be held at that location, thus providing for less releases. It is expected to be completed by 2022, four years from now.

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