Water-Related News

Lake O releases slowed to help protected species during nesting season

Federal water managers slowed releases to both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers over the weekend in an effort to slow Lake Okeechobee's recession rate.

Average flows to the Caloosahatchee were 2,000 cubic feet per second, but the Army Corps lowered that to 1,200 cubic feet per second, and levels in St. Lucie were dropped to 300 cubic feet per second, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records.

"It's a good number," said Barry Rosen, a professor with Florida Gulf Coast University's Water School, talking about the flow to the Caloosahatchee system. "Twelve hundred (cubic feet per second) is not going to harm oysters, and it's not going to hurt the freshwater tape grasses."

The Army Corps has tried for several weeks now to lower Lake Okeechobee, which was just over 14 feet above sea level Wednesday afternoon, in order to avoid summertime releases.

Regional water authority talks cyber security

Regional water supply officials say the Peace River system is safer than the small Florida community that was hacked and nearly poisoned in February.

One major difference between the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority and the Oldsmar community near Tampa is the Peace River system is not connected to the internet, Deputy Director Mike Coates told the water authority commissioners Wednesday in Charlotte County.

Unlike the Oldsmar system of 15,000 people, the regional water authority serves about 1 million people in three counties — Charlotte, DeSoto and Sarasota with Manatee participating for future interests. The regional authority has about 80 miles of pipeline.

Regional water authority plans ahead for huge capital costs

Proposed budget increases for the regional water supplier would only add about 12 cents to a typical user in 2022, even with a big jump in capital spending expected to start in the near future.

The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority Commission met Wednesday [Mar. 31st] in Charlotte County with a commissioner from each of DeSoto, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties. Water authority staff presented the five and 20-year capital improvement projects as part of the fiscal year 2022 budget. The budget must be voted on Aug. 4. Commissioners will hear the full budget presentation on June 2.

Consultants for the authority are finishing a feasibility study to build a third reservoir that is much larger than the first two, although how large has not been determined, Deputy Director Mike Coates told The Daily Sun. The biggest reservoir online now holds about 6 billion gallons and was completed in 2009. The first 500 million gallon reservoir was built by General Development Corporation, which went bankrupt in the 1980s. Charlotte County bought out its utilities operations and the regional water authority bought out the regional facilities in 1991.

The massive debt for buying out General Development, which many consider to be a bad deal on the public side, will finally be paid off in 2022, Director Pat Lehman told the commission. That will reduce the annual budget by almost $2 million a year.

Grant accepted for water quality and treatment research

Lee Commissioners accept $180,000 grant for water quality and treatment research

FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners voted on April 6th to accept a $180,000 Innovative Technologies Grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a water quality and treatment research project.

The research, in partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University and the South Florida Water Management District, will test various methods for removal of nitrogen from the Caloosahatchee River surface waters in order to improve water quality.

The research will take place at the C-43 Water Quality Treatment and Testing Project Boma site in Glades County, which includes 12 tanks, called mesocosms, containing wetland vegetation that were used to conduct a water quality assessment of nutrient removal from Caloosahatchee River water that was allowed to flow through the wetland cells.

This project will utilize some of these mesocosms to test innovative technology that could reduce nutrients in water bodies, and prevent or mitigate harmful algal blooms.

The Caloosahatchee estuary has a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) state designation for Total Nitrogen and an adopted State of Florida Basin Management Action Plan to lower this pollutant. Commissioners spend millions of dollars annually on projects to reduce pollutants in the estuary.

For more information on Lee County’s efforts to protect and improve water quality, visit https://www.leegov.com/water.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program helps us to ‘Sort Through the Green Stuff’

What is it? Algae, cyanobacteria, or seagrass?

This past week, the four Florida National Estuary Programs, along with local and regional partners, convened a 3-day workshop around the topic of macroalgae. Macroalgae refers to larger species of algae, whose individuals you can see without a microscope. Seaweed is another name commonly used.

If you’ve been out in Sarasota Bay or the Gulf, chances are, you’ve probably stumbled across this “green or brown stuff” floating in the water or tumbling along the seafloor. However, it is important to note that not all the green/brown stuff you may see is algae. It could be cyanobacteria or marine plants. So what exactly is the difference between the three?

North Port releases “ Scoop Scoop Baby” music video

In honor of International Pooper Scooper Week, the City of North Port Parks & Recreation Department launched a new parody music video in partnership with The Rock Box Music School & Stage. The goal? To remind residents that they can help protect our waterways and keep our parks clean by properly disposing their pet waste. The video can be enjoyed at https://youtu.be/R9_7ZcmZAiM or seen on the North Port Parks & Recreation Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/NorthPortParksAndRec.

“We wanted to remind our community in an entertaining way that we have a responsibility as pet owners to be good neighbors and pick up after our animals,” said Laura Ansel, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator. “We hope that this catchy song will have everyone scooping along with us.”

Pet waste that isn’t properly disposed of is not only smelly and unsightly, but it contains harmful fecal bacteria which can pose a health risk for pets and people, especially children. When it rains, fecal bacteria can be washed into our waterways, which supplies our drinking water. Pet waste left anywhere is a potential public health risk.

The good news, people can help scoop the poop and prevent poo-llution by bringing a scooper bag with them on walks, scooping up pet waste, and tossing it into the trash. Less dog waste means a happier and healthier community for all.

For more information, visit www.CityOfNorthPort.com/Scoop or call 941-429-PARK(7275).

Cape residents claim new construction caused damage to well water systems

CAPE CORAL – More northwest Cape Coral residents are claiming new construction near their homes may have caused pricey damage to their well water systems.

Before a new house was constructed next to his property in 2019, Devin Maresca said he never had well water issues during his 27 years of living in Cape Coral.

Days after a new well was dug on the neighboring property, he said his water pressure went down to nothing more than a trickle. It cost him $1,350 in repairs during the week of Christmas that year.

“It just started coincidentally when H2O Systems drilled the well next door,” Maresca said.

He realized last week after NBC2 spoke to other people in his area who are having issues similar to what he dealt with back in 2019, that new construction might be the culprit of his own well issues too.

Several people said last week that as new homes have been going up, older wells have been breaking down nearby soon after.

H2O Water Systems, based in Cape Coral, confirmed Thursday they did install the well pump on the property next to Maresca.

Red tide develops in Sarasota County

SARASOTA — Red tide is an unusually persistent harmful algal bloom in our water caused by Karenia brevis, a type of algae that produces potent neurotoxins.

It can be deadly to sea life. The toxins can also be suspended in the air near beaches and cause human respiratory illness.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported Wednesday that low levels of red tide have now been measured as far north as Sarasota County (Turtle Beach).

FWC has measured high levels at times around Ft. Myers to Naples since December 2020, which has included fish kills and odor along some of the beaches. High levels of red tide were reported today by FWC, just west of North Captiva Island in Lee County.

10 tips to save water for “Water Conservation Month”

While the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) encourages water conservation year-round, there is extra emphasis each April for Water Conservation Month. April is historically one of the driest months of the year and typically marks the peak demand season for public water suppliers.

With these 10 simple tips, you can lower your monthly water bill and do your part to save hundreds of gallons of water:

INDOOR

  • Only run your washing machine and dishwasher when they are full.
  • Use the shortest clothes washing cycle for lightly soiled loads; normal and permanent-press wash cycles use more water.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not under running water.
  • Scrape, don’t rinse, your dishes before loading in the dishwasher.
  • Install high-efficiency showerheads, faucets and toilets.

OUTDOOR

  • Check your home’s irrigation system for leaks.
  • Turn off your irrigation system and only water as needed.
  • Don’t leave sprinklers unattended. Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to turn sprinklers off.
  • Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle when washing the car.
  • Consider installing a rain barrel with a drip irrigation system for watering your landscaping. Rainwater is free and better for your plants because it doesn’t contain hard minerals.

Leaks are the biggest water waster, both inside and outside of your home. You can use your water meter to check for leaks. Turn off all faucets and water-using appliances and make sure no one uses water during the testing period. Wait for the hot water heater and ice cube makers to refill and for regeneration of water softeners. Go to your water meter and record the current reading. Wait 30 minutes. (Remember, no water should be used during this period.) Read the meter again. If the reading has changed, you have a leak.

For more information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

LA-MSID celebrates completion of West Marsh

The Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District’s Board of Commissioners and staff hosted a micro-event last week to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the district’s long awaited West Marsh Preserve Stormwater Treatment Project.

The project marks an historic milestone for the District and is the culmination of more than 10 years of cooperative work by district staff and several partner agencies. The West Marsh Project was broken up into a multi-phase plan, which began In December 2008, when Lee County’s 20/20 Program purchased the property now known as the West Marsh Preserve–adjacent to LA-MSID’s Harns Marsh Preserve.

“This is a big improvement to this property. The West Marsh project has been a true cooperative effort and labor of love and devotion by the board, its staff, and our partners over the past 10 years. We have many of our partners here today. The West Marsh cost $13.2 million to restore to a more natural habitat for both the animals and our residents to enjoy. Out of the large ticket number, the district contributed $350,000 of our non ad valorem taxes. All other costs were covered by grants, services and fees for this wonderful projects,” said Ken Thompson, chair, LA-MSID Board of Commissioners.

Thompson also took time to recognize LAMSID’s partnerships including representatives with Lee County Parks and Recreation, Southwest Florida Water Management, state legislators and the FDOT, which used the dirt excavated from the site as fill dirt for State Road 82.

SWFL to feds: Don’t make us bear brunt of dirty Lake O releases, now or in the future

Fair is fair.

That’s the message Lee County’s commission and all of its mayors hope the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes to heart as it makes future decisions about releasing polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

“There is a good chance that the Caloosahatchee will again be impacted by high-volume releases from the lake this rainy season,” they wrote to Colonel Andrew Kelly, the district commander for the federal agency that oversees the lake’s system, which includes the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds. Signing on were Lee Commission Chair Kevin Ruane, Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson, Estero Mayor Katy Errington, Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter, Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy, and Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith. (Approval was pending but expected from Bonita Springs Mayor Rick Steinmeyer when the letter was sent.)

“We fully understand that the limitations of the current system do not allow for any one stakeholder to realistically achieve even near-perfect conditions (but) we do ask and expect out of the process is that the Corps recognizes that while the Caloosahatchee and the residents of Lee County realize minimal benefits from the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control project we should not continue to suffer the bulk of the adversity. (The Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual) should therefore improve conditions in the Caloosahatchee Estuary beyond those expected from the C-43 Reservoir.”

Environmental restoration at home: Sanibel volunteers grow mangroves

Sitting in various corners and countertops in Sanibel homes, 140 young red mangroves soak up sunshine, waiting to be planted.

Volunteers caring for the plants learned about the important role mangroves play in Florida during recent online workshops. From protecting shorelines against storms to creating a nursery for a plethora of sea life, mangrove habitat is a vital resource.

The “walking trees” as they’re sometimes called, are part of Coastal Watch’s Back to our Roots initiative under the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s educational arm — Sanibel Sea School.

Gulf Coast fish farm permit will get second look under Biden Administration

The facility, which would be operated by Hawaii-based company Ocean Era, would host 20,000 almaco jack in a pen suspended 45 miles offshore in the Gulf. The EPA granted the company a discharge permit last October.

Under direction from the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is revisiting a permit granted to a proposed industrial fish farm off the coast of Sarasota.

WUSF's Cathy Carter spoke about the future of deep-sea aquaculture with environmental attorney Marianne Cufone. She's also executive director of Recirculating Farms Coalition, one of more than 50 groups that signed on to a letter urging the new administration to take a second look at the EPA permit and to undo an order from the Trump administration that could accelerate the construction of off shore finfish farming nationwide.

Marianne, this planned facility known as Velella Epsilon would be the first finfish farming project in federal waters. You're group is part of the Don’t Cage Our Oceans Coalition. Can you remind us— what are environmentalists' concerns with offshore aquaculture?

Things like escapes where fish get out of the pens. There's the potential for them to intermix with or overtake wild fish populations, competing for mates and habitat and food. Other issues are pollution from the cages because any food, waste or chemicals that are used in the cages can flow directly into the natural environment. And of course, they also take up real space in the environment, causing conflicts with existing industries like fishing and boating and diving so there are a whole host of concerns that come along with creating a new aquaculture industry offshore in the United States.

Lake Okeechobee discharges continue to estuaries

The Lake is receding, but not enough.

Lake Okeechobee discharges will be reduced to the Caloosahatchee River but will continue at the same rate to the St. Lucie River — indefinitely.

The Caloosahatchee will get 969 million gallons per day, down from an average 1.3 billion gallons a day since Feb. 13, Col. Andrew Kelly, Florida commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, announced in a news conference call Thursday.

The St. Lucie will continue to get a weekly average rate of 323 million gallons per day, the same amount since discharges started March 6, Kelly said.

"We (released lake water) really early, and really hard to the Caloosahatchee estuary," Kelly said. "We think we're achieving a balance, and an equity between those releases."

At 14 feet, 8 inches Thursday, Lake O's elevation above sea level has dropped over 6½ inches since March 6, but is still 2½ feet higher than this time last year.

The Army Corps projects the lake level will be about 13½ feet by June 1, but the agency typically wants it a foot lower by the start of the summer rainy season, so it can be stored in the lake, not released east and west to the coastal estuaries.

Lehigh Acres water quality work may result in ‘Lakes Park East’ recreation area

It may have been unimaginable a few years ago, but the wheels are in motion for development of a major recreational amenity in Lehigh Acres that would be modeled after popular Lakes Park in south Fort Myers.

Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District (LAMSID) is creating a water storage and cleansing operation in Lehigh Acres on land bought by Lee County as part of the Conservation 20/20 program.

LAMSID and Lee County got together on a plan to use the water storage areas that would be created on part of the 624-acre site, and visions of a new recreation facility took shape.

The program was strongly pushed by former state Rep. Matt Caldwell and former state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto in 2015.

The two legislators held a public hearing at LAMSID offices to forge partnerships to create a water quality and storage facility — and add passive recreation at the same site.

Citizen Scientists needed to survey seagrass, seaweed in Charlotte Harbor

Soon snorkelers will begin canvassing the floor of Charlotte Harbor. They’ll be on a scavenger hunt of sorts—a hunt for data.

The data they collect will help scientists get a better picture of the health of the harbor, and will ultimately help communities make more informed decisions about how the resource is managed, said Betty Staugler, who is leading the University of Florida citizen science project.

Training for the Eyes on Seagrass program is set for April 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Charlotte County Environmental Campus, 25550 Harborview Rd., Port Charlotte, FL 33980.

Citizen scientists will collect data during the first survey, April 12 and 25, and a second survey, July 16 and 29, in upper Charlotte Harbor along the east and west shores.

They will focus on seagrass and seaweed because these two plants provide clues about the status of the harbor, said Staugler, a Florida Sea Grant agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Charlotte County.

“Seagrasses reduce shoreline erosion, oxygenate the water, capture carbon, trap sediments and improve water clarity,” she said. “Seagrasses also form extensive structural habitat that supports a diverse array of species, including economically valuable fishes and invertebrates. About 85 percent of the species targeted in commercial and recreational fisheries in the Charlotte Harbor estuary depend on seagrasses for at least part of their life cycle.”

So, when seagrasses are thriving, that’s good news for the entire ecosystem. Seaweed, on the other hand, does better under conditions that are not as favorable to seagrasses, Staugler said.

“When there are more nutrients in the harbor, seaweeds have a competitive advantage over seagrasses,” Staugler explained. “Unattached seaweeds also shade rooted seagrasses, reducing their ability to photosynthesize and ultimately shortening their growing season. From an ecosystem perspective, the shift from seagrass to seaweed could have cascading impacts on animals dependent upon seagrass for food and shelter.”

Volunteers will receive monitor gear and will work in teams of three anytime between April 12 and 25, and July 16 and 29 to survey seagrass and seaweed in upper Charlotte Harbor along the east and west shores. Volunteers must form their own teams (at least 3 individuals) and provide their own boat transportation, water shoes, mask, snorkel and fins. 20 survey teams are needed.

For more information about the program or to preregister your team, contact Betty Staugler at staugler@ufl.edu or call 941-764-4346.

Legacy phosphorous adds nutrient load to water flowing into Lake O

Reducing the nutrient load in water that enters Lake Okeechobee is key to reducing the phosphorus levels in the lake water, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Eighth Biennial Review, was published by the National Academies earlier this month.

Even if all agriculture left the watershed, there is enough legacy phosphorus in the watershed to send 500 metric tons per year into the lake for the next 50 years, the report explains.

Before the Central & South Florida (C&SF) Project, which included the channelization of the Kissimmee River, the phosphorus level in Lake O was about 40 parts per billion (ppb) according to researchers. The lake currently averages about 150 ppb phosphorus. To get back to the 40 ppb, phosphorus levels entering the lake should be no more than 140 metric tons per year (including 35 metric tons of atmospheric phosphorus that enters the lake in direct rainfall). The most recent 5-year (2013-2017) average annual load of total phosphorus to Lake Okeechobee – 531 metric tons/year - greatly exceeds the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Phosphorus enrichment of the lake dates back to the mid-1900s, the review explains. Thanks to improved drainage throughout the watershed, nutrients are quickly transported from sources to wetlands, rivers, and ultimately Lake Okeechobee. While many of the historic sources of the nutrients have been remediated and nutrient loading at point sources (such as dairies) has declined by a large amount, the legacy phosphorus continues to be a problem.

Army Corps working toward new release schedule for Lake O

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a technical meeting Monday to talk about Lake Okeechobee releases and changes to release protocols that are expected to be in place by the end of 2022.

Lake Okeechobee is at the center of the historic Everglades, and releases are conducted to the Caloosahatchee River regularly to help lower lake levels.

Historically, the Caloosahatchee River was likely natural connected to Lake Okeechobee during heavy rain years, but developers turned the waterfalls and springs at the headwaters of the river in to a long, straight, deep canal that’s capable of taking billions of gallons of water.

The Army Corps conducts and regulates releases, and the agency has tried to keep the level of the lake between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level to provide flood control, water supply to farms and urbanized areas, and to provide healthy flows to systems like the Caloosahatchee.

UF scientists to probe downstream ecological impacts of stormwater ponds

GAINESVILLE — Florida teems with rain. Depending on where you live, you might get 40 to 60 inches annually. That rain must go somewhere. Enter Florida’s 76,000 stormwater ponds. When it rains, the water runs off the land, bringing chemicals, grass clippings, lawn debris and more from the landscape into these ponds.

Yet little to no research analyzes downstream ecological impacts from those ponds. Stormwater ponds were originally designed to reduce downstream flooding and are expected to provide water quality benefits by preventing things like sediments or nutrients from entering natural water bodies.

Although ponds do help water quality, research has shown that ponds aren’t as good at removing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen as they were originally designed. Nutrients not removed by the ponds might go from the stormwater pond – which collects the rain and debris – to nearby bodies of water.

A University of Florida scientist will embark on a study this summer, using Manatee County as his lab. But his results will apply to much of Florida, including Tampa Bay and Biscayne Bay.

FWC and partners work on restoring the Peace River

Over the past nine months, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) teamed up with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Panama City Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office to restore two severely eroding riverbanks along the Peace River in southwest Florida.

The FWC completed an assessment of the Peace River, evaluating over 300 miles of stream. Through that assessment, the FWC identified locations for several critical projects including a 450-foot bank just south of Zolfo Springs and a 1,000-foot stretch of riverbank south of Arcadia.

On both sites, the riverbanks were recontoured with machinery using Natural Channel Design methodology. This technique uses layers of logs and other woody debris as a foundation to build out the eroded shoreline. The new riverbank was then modified to create a floodplain bench that will reduce stress and help prevent future erosion. The rebuilt riverbank was covered in grass seed and coconut fiber matting, and planted with more than 1,500 native plants to help stabilize the new bank and promote biodiversity.

This technique provides a more aesthetically-pleasing, natural result than traditional river stabilization techniques and it also provides great habitat for fish and wildlife. Over time the coconut fiber matting will deteriorate as the plants continue to grow and mature, creating natural stream conditions.

Rivers and streams serve as important habitat for fish and wildlife, and provide recreational opportunities for people. The Peace River also is a corridor between wetlands that connect Florida’s terrestrial habitats to its marine habitats.

Streambank erosion and associated channel sedimentation are the leading causes of habitat degradation and biodiversity decline in Florida rivers and streams. Erosion and sedimentation are accelerated by changes to flow rates and patterns, often caused by development within the river’s watershed, and loss of shoreline vegetation.

For more information about the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration projects, visit MyFWC.com/wildlifehabitats, click on “Habitat,” then “Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration.”

For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lakes.

Lee Commissioners approve management plan for GS-10 Preserve

FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve a land management plan for the GS-10 Preserve in East Lee County that includes a water management and restoration project by the Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District (LAMSID).

The Board approved the purchase of the 624-acre GS-10 Preserve in April 2019 through the Conservation 20/20 program. The Board and LAMSID entered into memorandum of understanding to partner on the management of the land.

The land management plan provides a general overview to construct a filter marsh to provide flood mitigation, TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) credits for improving surface water quality, and to provide for nature-based recreation.

There are currently 31,060 acres within Conservation 20/20, Lee County’s land acquisition and management program. Conservation lands help the county protect drinking water, enhance water quality, provide nature-based recreational opportunities, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitat.

For more information, visit www.Conservation2020.org.

Lee Commissioners vote to pursue Conservation 20/20 land purchases

FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to pursue acquisition of two parcels through the Conservation 20/20 program that are near publicly held land.

The parcels are:

  • About 0.23 of an acre located inside the Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve in North Fort Myers, east of Interstate 75 and south of Bayshore Road.
  • About 2.5 acres located within the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed area, a 60,000-acre area of interconnected environmentally critical land.

Both parcels were recommended unanimously by the Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee.

The Lee County Conservation 20/20 program acquires land from willing sellers for resource-based recreational opportunities such as hiking, birdwatching, nature study, photography and paddle craft launches. The program for environmentally sensitive land acquisition and management has preserved 31,060 acres since its inception. In addition to recreation, conservation lands help the county to protect drinking water, enhance water quality, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitat. For more information, visit www.Conservation2020.org

Adrienne Street Pier closed through mid-April

Beginning the week of March 22 through April 16 material delivery and weather depending, construction is schedule for rehabilitation to lift the Adrienne St. pier and place pile jackets.

The pier will be closed to the public while work is being performed. It will re-open following completion.

Pedestrians and cyclists are required to use extreme caution while workers are present in the right of way.

For information Adrienne Street Pier or contact Linda Sposito, Sr. Project Manager, Public Works Department at (941) 575-5060 between the business hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Submit photos now for 2022 CHNEP Nature Calendar Photography Contest

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership welcomes your photography submissions of nature in the CHNEP area. Our annual photo contest site is now underway. Please join in the fun and help CHNEP spread the word!

The CHNEP annual nature calendar showcases the beauty and diversity of its program area and is distributed to thousands all over Southwest Florida.

Submissions will be accepted until July 1st and winners will be notified mid-September. To learn more about submission guidelines or to enter the contest, please click on the link below:

Army Corps: No end in sight for Lake O discharges

Lake Okeechobee discharges could be a long-term event, the federal government indicated Thursday, without specifying an end date or set lake level to achieve.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it indefinitely will continue releasing water east to the St. Lucie River, west to the Caloosahatchee River and south through various spillways.

"We're looking at this being a long-term thing," Florida commander Col. Andrew Kelly said. "But again, we're being very measured, very deliberate, very mindful on a weekly basis and can adjust pretty rapidly as needed."

Lake O's elevation Thursday was 15 feet, 1 inch, which is 2½ inches lower since March 6, when the Army Corps opened the St. Lucie Lock & Dam floodgates.

SCCF scientist predicts algae & red tide for SWFL this summer

LEE COUNTY – A scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation doesn’t like the situation estuaries are in right now.

Lake Okeechobee is above 15 feet. That is higher than the Corps wants it to be this time of year. That is why they are releasing about 15,000 gallons per second west. They’re also releasing some water east down the St. Lucie River, and south towards the Everglades.

SCCF Scientist James Evans said this is not lowering the lake quick enough. He is worried we could see higher releases during the summer. The last time that happened, we had red tide blooms and algae plague the canals and coastline.

“If history tells us anything, we’re in for a rough ride,” Evans said. He said this is a similar situation we were in during the start of 2018. Our economy was destroyed as people stopped going to the beaches and islands.

FWC completes Peace River restoration project with USFWS

Its completion comes after nine months of working to restore two severely eroding riverbanks in southwest Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has completed a nine-month project to restore two severely eroding riverbanks along the Peace River in southwest Florida.

Biologists from the FWC joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the project.

The project started when the FWC completed an assessment of the Peace River, which included an evaluation of more than 300 miles of stream.

Through that assessment, the FWC identified locations for several critical projects that showed streambank erosion, including a 450-foot bank just south of Zolfo Springs and a 1,000-foot stretch of riverbank south of Arcadia.

Such erosion and associated channel sedimentation are the leading causes of habitat degradation and biodiversity decline in Florida rivers and streams, making them a priority for the FWC. Erosion and sedimentation are accelerated by changes to flow rates and patterns, often caused by development within the river’s watershed, and loss of shoreline vegetation.

Some water managers concerned over proposal to move south Lee into Big Cypress Basin

The idea of lumping south Lee County into a different water management basin is working its way through committees in Tallahassee, but some South Florida Water Management District governing board members expressed concern Thursday about the proposed change.

The problem started decades ago, when the original water management district lines were drawn.

"If you go back to the creation of the water management district in the ‘70s, the legislation was brilliant as they used science to define the boundaries of the water management districts," said board chair and Sanibel resident Chauncey Goss during a scheduled monthly meeting. "It depended on hydrology. But that’s not true in the basin. If you look at the Big Cypress Basin, that’s the one place you draw (a political line) on a map, and that happens to be the Lee County and Collier County border."

Environmental nonprofits join forces to hire 'science geek' to help fix water woes

When he starts his new job later this month, Paul Julian will have two high-powered bosses and a lofty goal: Improve Southwest Florida’s water quality.

Lee County's Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Collier's Conservancy of Southwest Florida teamed up to woo Julian away from his job as Everglades Technical Lead for the Florida Department of Environment Protection to join the nonprofit sector.

In his official role as hydrological modeler, the self-described science geek will use expertise he’s gained over the last decade of agency work to help the nonprofits form a unified front.

It’s the first time groups on the state’s west coast have created such a synergy to preserve and protect the region’s water resources. Hopes are high that joining forces this way will further their common goals.

Fort Myers Beach embarks on clean water campaign after deadly winter of red tide

Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife recorded three-year high for red tide cases in birds last month

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) reported a three-year high for red tide poisoning of birds for the month of February in a winter that saw a resurgence of red tide locally though not as pronounced as what was felt in 2018.

A sustained increase in flows from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River from October through January by the Army Corps of Engineers has been cited as a leading cause of local waterways being loaded with nutrients from the lake, impacting salinity levels that the Calusa Waterkeeper has warned would damage the Gulf of Mexico and harm marine life.

One issue remains certain locally: water quality is the top issue as state and federal projects have not kept up with the impacts to the environment.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council is embarking on a campaign this month to encourage residents and visitors to write letters to legislators in Florida as well as legislators in their home states to back funding for water quality projects in Florida, including the Everglades.

C-43 Reservoir construction begins near LaBelle, project will store water from Caloosahatchee River

LABELLE, Fla.– Crews are preparing for a $500 million project, just east of LaBelle.

They’re are breaking ground on the C-43 Reservoir. It will store water from the Caloosahatchee River.

The project manager says the Manhattan sized area will flood with water by the end of 2023.

They’re hoping this project will help balance salinity levels down the river and keep algal blooms from heading west to Lee County.

Crews are creating a pumping system that will take water from the river and pump it into the reservoir. The water will be anywhere from 15 to 25 feet deep.

The water stored will reduce how much water released from Lake Okeechobee will head down the river immediately.