Collier and Lee Counties Edition

South Florida’s Water Crisis Dilemma

Florida Citizens for Clean Water

Florida Citizens for Clean Water

The picture-perfect postcard images of the Sunshine State overlaid with the phrase “Wish you were here” are being overshadowed by negative newspaper headlines depicting photos of dead sea life washed ashore and aerial views of the 130-mile long toxic Karenia brevis red tide necklace that floats offshore from Sarasota to Marco Island, as well as the green sludge cyanobacteria blanket over Lake Okeechobee and the canals in North Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The water crisis, which has captured considerable national attention, has left thousands of Floridians and environmental organizations aghast, dismayed, frustrated and angry, emboldening them to find solutions. as well as reliable resources for education regarding the food sources of the bacteria now devastating our precious ecosystem.

Floridians and Environmental Organizations Team Up for Truth

For clarification of science that benefits the environment, the Pachamama Alliance of Southwest Florida (PASWFL) teamed up with The CLEO Institute (CLEOInstitute.org), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization exclusively dedicated to climate change education, engagement and advocacy. To shape its training and policy advocacy efforts, CLEO synthesizes the current scientific data from reputable organizations such as NASA, NOAA and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists.

“Increasing temperatures and higher amounts of rainfall from extreme weather events that are due to climate change, as well as fertilizer-rich storm water runoff polluted with human and animal waste from nearby farms and neighborhoods are contributors to the growing crisis,” says Yoca Arditi-Rocha, co-executive director and senior climate advisor for CLEO Institute. “Toxic algae thrive in stagnant, warm water rich in nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Water quality scientists believe that Hurricane Irma may have stirred them up at the bottom of the Everglades drainage system. This is likely another exacerbating contributor to massive Cyanobacteria and Karenia brevis.”

CLEO Florida Climate Pledge

CLEO, along with their coalition of partners launched the Florida Climate Pledge (FloridaClimatePledge.org), a campaign for Floridians to connect the dots between the use of fossil fuels, climate change and concerns regarding the economy, health, biodiversity loss and national security.

Private Citizens Act

Fred Moon’s involvement with Pachamama Alliance of Southwest Florida (PASWFL) (Connect.pachamama.org) and its Drawdown Initiative, along with his own research, led him to discover CLEO. “Their demanding of climate policies from elected leaders impressed me. I could easily see their work dovetailing with that of PASWFL, the Southwest Florida Drawdown Initiative, because while they highlight the urgency of climate action, they also champion solutions for a resilient future,” says the Fort Myers resident, a newbie to the grassroots movement.

A board member and philanthropist helping to support the Southwest Florida Community Foundation (SWFLCF) (FloridaCommunity.com), Moon explains that he and his PASWFL colleague Ensign Cowell are teaming up to help fund the Florida Climate Pledge billboard initiative that will inform drivers about connecting the dots between climate change and our water crisis.   

“No one can sit this one out,” says Cowell, a shrewd climate change activist who is discerning about how to be a presence for change and where to place his efforts. “It’s inspiring to see all the hundreds of new and seasoned activists armed with real science that are organizing to protect and defend our precious environment.”

Adding to the momentum, PASWFL is co-hosting, with Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) Department of Integrated Studies, the Awakening the Dreamer Changing the Dream Symposium on September 22 at FGCU from noon to 5 p.m., in room 114 of the Sugden Hall Resort and Hospitality Management Building. “This transformative educational program explores the challenges facing humanity at this critical time and the opportunities we have to come together and create a new future,” says Holley Rauen, co-founder of PASWFL.

Bill Hammond, a member of the PASWFL, is adding to the momentum with an educational speaker series at the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium (CalusaNature.org), in Fort Myers, where he serves as board of directors chair. The series kicks off on September 8 at 8:30 a.m. with a Climate Change Solution event that includes the film Fierce Green Fire, followed by a panel of local experts. “I am hoping everyone who attend will join the Climate March at 2 p.m. in Fort Myers’ Centennial Park,” says Hammond. (Facebook.com/events/613176059062854)

Cypress Cove Conservancy (CCC)

CCC (CypressCoveConservancy.com) founder and president Bobbie Lee Davenport stood with thousands of individuals in the statewide Hands Across the Beaches event. But locking hands to show Floridians’ intolerance for the devastation of their beaches, wildlife, homes and livelihoods by Lake Okeechobee releases wasn’t enough for Davenport, who organized a gathering of concerned Floridians at the Arsenault Gallery, in Naples, that drew sport fisherman, charter boat captains, scientists, environmental group leaders, candidates running for office, college students and a marine biologist. The group has now established a public Facebook group, Florida Citizens for Clean Water, which Davenport hopes will become an online gathering place for staying current with local news and events regarding the water crisis.

Educating the Public with Town Halls

Public education on Cyanobacteria and Karenia brevis were the focus of a recent Our Water: Fighting a Legacy of Neglect town hall, which drew an audience of 400 citizens to the Broadway Palm Theatre to hear three local scientists concerned about water quality. Parisima Taeb, M.D., internal medicine, Lee County; Dr. Jennifer Boddicker, Ph.D., microbiology, Glades County; and Annisa Karim, MS, wildlife ecology and conservation, Collier County, answered audience questions regarding human health risks during the free forum. Captain Chris Whitman, one of the founders of Captains for Clean Water (CaptainsForCleanWater.org) spoke about the bacteria as a symptom of a poorly managed sick and broken water system. “We are fighting very hard to fix that system by electing ecologically minded officials who will manage our water properly,” says Whitman.

Calusa Waterkeepers

Adding more science, the Calusa and Collier County Waterkeepers (CalusaWaterkeeper.org) (CollierCountyWaterkeeper.org) recently presented the screening of A Toxic Puzzle, followed by a panel discussion at the Silverspot Cinema, in Naples. The documentary film is focused on the environmental neurotoxin BMAA—produced by the cyanobacteria, which according to the film’s ethnobotanist, Paul Cox. Ph.D., and his team of 50 collaborating scientists, can trigger Alzheimer’s disease. The documentary asks, “Are these cyanobacteria fed by human pollution and climate change staging nature’s revenge, increasing the number of deaths from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?”

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani is the voice of the beleaguered river. Committed to mobilizing Southwest Floridians to begin the long, hard work of mitigating decades of damage to the ecosystem, Cassani doesn’t mince words. “Southwest Florida is struggling to manage water quality and water quantity problems. The drivers of the problem include rapid and widespread development that follows a population boom. When you add the effects of increased brutal weather events that severely alter hydrology and sea level rise to rapid landscape development, it makes it very difficult to prevent further decline of water quality.”

Much of the state oversight of land use planning by local governments has diminished since 2010. There is progress on some fronts where the focus is to restore hydrology, but the growing problem of harmful algal blooms and fecal bacteria need more enforcement of existing regulations and funding for restoration.

The excuses for reducing environmental regulation to improve economic conditions do not stand up to full-cost accounting. “Typically in Southwest Florida the environment is the basis of the economy with respect to property values, tourism and the related sectors of hotel and restaurant businesses,” says Cassini.

South Florida Clean Water Movement (SFCWM)

Clean water activist and SFCWM co-founder (Facebook.com/groups/SWFLcleanwater) John Heim recently suffered physically and financially from toxic cyanobacteria and Karenia brevis. An employee of a Fort Myers Beach restaurant that closed for five days due to the algae bloom, Heim fell ill from breathing in toxins and was forced to miss work.

That didn’t stop Heim, who is excited to announce that campaigning for water quality warning signs to alert tourists finally paid off. “The mayor agreed to post signage with water quality report codes that can be checked daily with a smart phone,” says Heim, who believes that every Floridian should be invested in fighting for their human right to clean water. “From real estate people and homeowners to politicians, business owners, hoteliers, restaurateurs, farmers and the tourist industry, water quality is a nonpartisan issue.” Heim, sees a difference between this 2018 water crisis and that of 2015 because private citizens and groups, as well as eco-organizations and mayors, are uniting. “It’s unfortunate that we live in society where something has to happen to you personally for it to be meaningful,” says Heim.

Not only is Heim helping to raise money for Calusa Waterkeeper and his Water Rangers that collect samples for independent water testing, he’s been to Washington, D.C., to inform his congressman of how his home district is suffering. “I told him people were waiting with pitchforks and torches, but they aren’t educated enough regarding who to go after, but they are quickly getting educated. The ‘who to go after’ is the South Florida Water Management District, because this is mismanagement of our water,” advises Heim.

Heim’s upcoming Truth Tour around Florida will include educational speeches about Lake Okeechobee discharges and the red tide mix. “I want Floridians to message me at Facebook.com/groups/SWFLcleanwater so that I can create a travel map and work with individuals who want to organize media coverage and book event locations in their town that can accommodate projectors for our well-organized PowerPoint presentation in their town,” he says.

Within the puzzle of fixing the South Florida water crisis, there are many moving parts that need to be addressed. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (Sccf.org), as well as nationally recognized water activist Erin Brockovich, point out the obvious. She advises, “The most concerning issue for clean water in the United States today is not chemical, physical or financial; it’s politics… It’s time to inform, educate and inspire action across America so that our communities and leaders are armed with the strongest weapon in politics: facts, answers, truth, and solutions.”

To educate, inform and empower others with truth, facts are our only weapon. SCCF agrees and has posted a letter, as well as talking points for candidates running for office or reelection (Sccf.org/our-work/natural-resource-policy/talking-points-for-2018).

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