The River, Bay and Gulf waters surrounding Lee County define our community. They are the cornerstone of our quality of life and the lifeblood of our tourism-driven economy. But those waters and the wildlife that depend upon them are being threatened. Here's why:
- Freshwater discharges into the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary are dramatically impacting our area's ecosystem.
- During the wet season, when water levels in the lake are high, excessive releases are made from Lake Okeechobee as a flood-control measure. These releases combine with runoff from the Caloosahatchee River Basin to cause environmental problems. The discharges contain high levels of nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, that contribute to algae blooms. They also have high levels of sediments that can smother seagrass beds and block out sunlight necessary for growth.
- In the dry season, a lack of rain permits salt water to creep up the river, so small amounts of water are released to keep salinity levels low for freshwater organisms. When these releases are too low, seagrass beds cannot survive.
- In addition to preventing flooding of surrounding areas, the discharges into the Caloosahatchee River are necessary to manage the availability of water for agricultural and public water supply needs during the dry season as well as to protect the health of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary. The South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage the Lake and the discharges.
- Because the Caloosahatchee River has received man-induced water releases for so long, our area's entire ecosystem has changed. It now is dependent upon limited freshwater releases in order to keep the ratio of salt and freshwater levels to the right (artificially created) balance to ensure the health of sea grasses and dependent wildlife.