We all know the importance of clean water in Florida. It is the lifeblood of our fisheries and our economy. Without clean water, Florida wouldn’t be the Fishing Capital of the World. Fishing guides, recreational anglers, tackle companies and many other individuals and businesses have done their part for clean water by joining Captains for Clean Water, making trips to Tallahassee and supporting Everglades restoration.
When most people think of the Everglades, they think of a small area at the southern tip of the state. But there’s a lot more to it than that. The headwaters of the Greater Everglades starts just south of Orlando. Water from Central Florida flows down the Kissimmee River and into Lake Okeechobee, which is the watery heart of the Everglades. Historically, water in Lake Okeechobee continued to flow south through the Everglades and balanced the salinity in Florida Bay. Today, the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounds Lake Okeechobee and prevents the water from flowing south. When lake levels rise, billions of gallons of water are discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers via manmade canals. These massive discharges disrupt the natural salinity balance, which kills seagrass and oyster beds- the foundation of our fisheries.
In 2016, Captains for Clean Water was founded to engage anglers, fishing guides, outdoor corporations as well as the tourism and real estate industry to fight for progress on Everglades restoration. In 2017, legislation was passed to expedite a critical Everglades restoration project- the EAA Reservoir. The concept of the project is to create holding ponds and filter marshes south of Lake Okeechobee to store, treat and convey water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades. The project will be created where water historically flowed into the Everglades. That portion of the Everglades was drained to make way for sugarcane fields, which span hundreds of thousands of acres of historic Everglades flow-way.
Although this was a significant win for Everglades restoration, we still have a lot of work to do. Special interest groups fought us every step of the way and lobbied policymakers to scale back the size of this project. We don’t have tens of millions of dollars to give to political campaigns and lobbyists like the special interest groups do. We rely on the power of the people to make a difference.
The State of Florida authorized and funded their portion of the project. The EAA Reservoir is now pending federal approval. Captains for Clean Water will be in Washington DC this spring asking Congress to authorize and fund the federal government’s portion.
Florida’s water quality issues are not just limited to the Everglades. The teams competing in the Florida Skiff Challenge will also be passing by other estuaries that need our help. In the Panhandle, Apalachicola Bay has suffered from lack of freshwater flows into the estuary. This has caused oyster beds to die off. The battle to save Apalachicola Bay has been going on for decades. Georgia uses most of the water in the rivers, which has significantly decreased flows into the estuary. This disruption is detrimental to the fishery.
On Florida’s East Coast, the northern Indian River Lagoon is facing a crisis. Nutrient pollution is causing harmful algal blooms, fish kills and seagrass die-offs. This area is also in desperate need of a comprehensive plan to fix these problems. Many fishing guides are advocating for a combination of short-term and long-term solutions to help save the fishery, as they fear the Indian River Lagoon doesn’t have long to wait.
The four teams competing in the Florida Skiff Challenge will endure harsh conditions day and night, without any rest. They are doing this because they want you to understand the importance of clean water for the future of Florida. The boat manufacturers are competing not only to see who can reach the finish line first, but also to see who can raise the most money for Captains for Clean Water. Donations go directly toward our mission of advancing education, awareness and scientifically supported solutions to restore and protect marine ecosystems and our way of life for future generations. Captains for Clean Water is a 501c3 organization.