Notes from last weekend’s Everglades Coalition conference

Everglades National Park needs more water, more clean water.

That was one of the clearest takeaway messages technical experts and advocates repeated at the Everglades Coalition annual conference last weekend in Fort Myers .

This is an important issue for Ancient Islands Sierra because we lie at the Everglades’ headwaters.

If you want know why the water delivery is important, read the following.

The Everglades needs more water to restore degraded wildlife habitat and to prevent more species from disappearing from the landscape.

The Everglades needs more water to push back the encroaching salt water that accompanies sea level rise.

The Everglades needs more water to replenish the Florida Bay estuary.

The Everglades needs more water to replenish the Biscayne Aquifer.

One of the issues that has been confused—sometimes intentionally –in the public mind is the debate over what to do about toxic algae blooms that flowed into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries last year, shutting down beaches, businesses and some marine life.

Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee along its historic path to Florida Bay is primarily about restoring the Everglades.

Lake Okeechobee ‘s pollution, which was the primary source of the coastal algae problem, is a separate issue.

Like many other Florida lakes, it suffers from the cumulative results of decades of pollution from within its watershed. Those pollutants are in its bottom sediment and will continue to be recycled for decades as agencies work to build retention areas north of the lake to treat some of the upstream pollution.

That won’t help the coastal algae problems anytime soon, but other solutions might abate the problem.

One that has been mentioned often lately is reviewing the regulation schedule—how high the water level is maintained and when and for how long—for Lake Okeechobee, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

What is being proposed is to keep the lake at a lower level than it is kept now, which will reduce the need for dramatic, environmentally harmful water releases when storms strike. The only reason the upper levels are maintained is to provide adequate irrigation water for the sugar farms surrounding the lake. It’s time to rethink that proposition, people are saying. Corps officials present at the conference said they would be willing to discuss the idea.

Neither South Florida Water Management District officials nor their friends in the sugar industry agreed to participate in any of the meeting’s panel discussions. Both have been aggressive in opposing many of the environmental community’s proposals.

Stay tuned.

Polk water summit Jan. 24

The Polk County Water Cooperative will meet at 6 p.m. Jan. 24 in the County Commission board room in Bartow.

The meeting is open to the public.

The agenda will be posted at http://www.prwcwater.org/

It’s not up yet, but according to a preliminary agenda circulated late last year, the focus of the meeting will be on securing more funding for future projects beyond the help Polk will be receiving from Swiftmud for priority projects.

That will include lobbying the Florida Legislature during Polk County Day later this year.