As the rain subsides and our waters begin to clear, many Florida residents will breathe a sigh of relief, But for those of us who make our living on the water, we will continue to suffer from the lasting effects of the man-made Lake Okeechobee discharges into our estuaries. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries suffered immensely this year. Large areas of seagrass and oyster beds died as a result of sustained, high volume freshwater discharges into the estuaries. To many folks, seagrass and oysters may not be a glamorous subject, but they are the foundation of our estuary and yield an immense economic benefit to Florida’s economy. All of our marine species, from the fish we eat to the dolphins and birds that attract tourists and entertain our residents, depend on healthy estuaries. Unfortunately, these oyster and seagrass beds do not regrow overnight- it takes years of proper management to repair the damage inflicted by mere weeks of high volume freshwater discharges.
In the words of a good friend, Magnus Gunnarson, “Nature is resilient- but we have to give it opportunities.” Magnus is the VP of Mustad Hooks- the largest fishing hook manufacturer in the world. Mustad, along with dozens of other multi-million dollar companies who make a substantial amount of money as a result of a healthy marine environment are very concerned about the issues facing Florida’s waterways. Our state’s estuaries have been in a long-term decline, threatening Florida’s $9.3 billion fishing industry. Mustad is not alone, we have gained the support of dozens of leading outdoor corporations including YETI, Costa Sunglasses, Simms, Seadek and many others.
Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron has made it his priority for the next legislative session to plan and fund additional water storage projects south of Lake Okeechobee. This is the opportunity our estuaries need to rebound from decades of mismanagement. Senator Negron has proposed buying approximately 60,000 acres of agricultural land south of the lake to create a reservoir that would be used to store excess water so that it can be cleaned and conveyed south into the Everglades and Florida Bay where it is desperately needed. The restoration of the Everglades is a multifaceted effort, and increased storage, treatment and southern conveyance of water from Lake Okeechobee is essential to alleviating the harmful discharges into the coastal estuaries. There are many projects south of the lake at various stages of completion, including the Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP), Restoration Strategies, Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, and increased bridging of the Tamiami Trail. These projects are designed to overcome the current obstacles to sending water south, and will not be utilized to their full potential unless we have sufficient water storage, such as through Senator Negron’s proposed reservoir, in the Everglades Agricultural Area, to provide a constant supply of fresh water to Florida Bay.
Sadly, 2016 was a rough year for water in Florida. Florida Bay experienced a massive seagrass die-off due to lack of freshwater flow, while the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers experienced damaging discharges killing seagrass and oysters due to excessive freshwater flows. People are outraged, and now Senator Negron is giving us an opportunity to be part of a science-based solution to help save the Florida that we all know and love. Science, common sense and a duty to our children tell us that we need to restore the flow of clean, fresh water to the Everglades where it belongs. We are excited and optimistic that our policymakers will listen to the indisputable science and do what’s best for Florida and our economy. Sign the #NowOrNeverglades Declaration and become a member of our organization. The fishing industry represents only a fraction of the affected businesses in Florida. If you care about the future of Florida should consider joining Captains for Clean Water. We need your support today to fight for clean water and healthy estuaries.