Collier and Lee Counties Edition
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A Poor Report Card on Water Quality

“Wherever the human race has roamed, be it across oceans, continents or into the depths of space, we are forever searching for the presence of water: clean water, plentiful water. In its abundance, civilizations have flourished. In its absence, life has withered.” – The Water Imperative, Audubon International

A review of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Estuaries Report Card, the guide to understanding the health of Southwest Florida’s 10 watersheds, rivers, estuaries and bays, makes it clear that our region’s most precious resource—fishable, drinkable and swimmable water—is in big trouble.

Report Card Marks

Our quality of life, tourism-driven economy and agricultural economy each relies on clean water. The need to achieve the right balance appears to be a challenge that hasn’t yet been met. Report card marks are based on the water quality assessments available from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, hydrologic information, impervious surface cover, wetlands, mangroves and conservation lands data from other agencies.

The Conservancy graded each watershed based on two categories: water quality and wildlife habitat. Naples Bay and the Caloosahatchee River flunked, with a D-minus in both categories. Rookery Bay faired better with a B-plus and C, respectively, while the Ten Thousand Islands earned an A-plus and C-plus . Wiggins Pass/Cocohatchee received a B and D-minus. These poor grades, the need to connect key environmental, agriculture and government stakeholders involved in massive water quality and storage projects, and the urgency in developing pathways to workable solutions led The News-Press to hold a second Save Our Water Summit in May.

Waterkeepers — Eyes on the Water  

The eyes on the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, Lake Okeechobee, Nicodemus Slough, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay and the near-shore waters of Lee County belong to Caloosahatchee Waterkeeper John Cassani and his volunteer Calusa Waterkeeper Rangers. Patrolling and working to protect and improve waterways and mangroves that are important to fisheries, these water watchdogs monitor for algae blooms, fish kills, illicit discharges and potential health risk problems.

Cassani, a panelist at the summit, advises, “Southwest Florida is really 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 severe 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 was diminished over the last eight years. There is progress on some fronts where the focus is to restore hydrology, but the growing problem of harmful algal blooms and fecal indicator bacteria [clarify] need more enforcement of existing regulations and funding for restoration,” advises Cassani, who notes that the excuse for reducing environmental regulation to improve economic conditions does not stand up to full cost accounting. “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.”

Collier County Waterkeeper

“Collier County is globally known for its extraordinary number of pristine waterways that are home to some of the most diverse ecosystems in our state. These include Rookery Bay, Gordon River, Naples Bay, Wiggins Pass, Gordon Pass, Big Cypress, Marco Island, Keewaydin Island, and the 10,000 Islands,” says Harrison Langley, a Collier County waterkeeper.

“While there are some good projects on the horizon, new development in Collier County means more golf courses, more storm water runoff pollution and more mangrove forest encroachment. The Rookery Bay watershed, in-between the Marco Island and Naples watersheds, is at the greatest risk with all the new developments popping up. We need to educate builders, site crews and developers so that they minimize impact on the environment. Otherwise, the rookery will continue to diminish,” explains Langley.

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