Captain Daniel Andrews is right that water is Florida’s most valuable resource. Anyone who has spent a hot summer afternoon in the Sunshine State knows how precious water can be, whether it’s for drinking, recreating, or fishing.
In the Glades Communities, thousands of families rely on a healthy Lake Okeechobee for fishing and boating. Earlier this year, our marina, Mary Ann and Roland Martin’s Marina in Clewiston, hosted 374 anglers for the 2018 kickoff to the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) tour. The event was an overwhelming success, attracted people from around the world, and generated significant revenue for not only our business, but also for our community.
Lake Okeechobee is a global fishing destination, and people in cold climates everywhere from New York to Norway dream of coming to sunny Florida to fish our beautiful lake.
It is full of life, the fish and aquatic life are healthy, and it’s far from toxic. But our lake can only stay beautiful if it is managed properly and plans to control the inflows by building storage and treatment north of the lake move forward.
While some have argued that sending more water south is the answer to stopping the discharges from Lake Okeechobee, I’m afraid that solution is neither practical nor possible.
This year, parts of Southern Florida have received more than 850 percent of normal rainfall. All of that rain has put the southern end of the Everglades completely above flood stage. Additionally, sensitive birding habitat in the Everglades, which protects the Cape Sabal Seaside Sparrow, has prevented additional water from going south. Until it is completely bridged, I-75 is a barrier to sending water south.
Then there’s the millions of people who live along the levee protecting South Florida from excess water in the Everglades. If that structure were ever to break, it would be a disaster for South Florida.
As The News-Press has covered extensively, these constraints during periods of high water levels have made “sending water south” impossible. While some have called for “shared adversity,” with so much rainfall, there is simply no place left south of the lake for any adversity to be shared. The Everglades does not need, nor will it take, additional lake water during flood events.
This situation, similar to where we found ourselves during 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017, has highlighted a need for more storage options to the north of Lake Okeechobee, where more than 95 percent of the water and nutrients are entering the lake. We can reduce the flow and the nutrients into the lake during high-water events, which in turn prevents them from ever going into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Solutions such as aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells and deep injection wells (known as “Emergency Estuary Protection Wells”) will provide water managers with the flexibility they need.
We simply cannot write off Lake Okeechobee. Calls for sending all of the water south completely disregard this international treasure and put the livelihood of freshwater fishing families at risk. Why is the same water coastal residents do not want OK for Lake Okeechobee? It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.
I join other members of the Lake Okeechobee fishing community in calling for solutions that will #SlowTheFlow. With additional storage and treatment options to the north, we can protect Lake Okeechobee and save the coastal estuaries at the same time. These solutions will also ensure there’s enough water for Glades communities and the Everglades.
It can be done, but our collective efforts must focus on fixing the problem and not repeating slogans that merely transfer the problem and the damage to someone else.
Mary Ann Martin is the owner and operator of Mary Ann & Roland Martin’s Marina in Clewiston. She also serves as member of the South Florida Water Management District Water Resources Analysis Coalition (WRAC). The above guest column first ran in The Fort Myers News Press.