Water-Related News

Op-Ed: Estuary celebration about perception

By John Cassani — Lee County Utilities, Southwest Florida Watershed Council

In 2009, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection declared the Caloosahatchee Estuary impaired because of nutrient pollution.

In response, the DEP was to conduct a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to reduce excess nitrogen to a level the estuary could assimilate without bad things happening. Since then, the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been locked in a court-ordered struggle over stricter water quality rules that might go further to prevent impairment.

With the support of industries that pollute, Florida DEP says the federal rules are unnecessary and too expensive despite a statewide decline in water quality manifested by algae blooms and fish kills, typically stemming from nutrient pollution such as nitrogen.

During this debate, DEP representatives have been writing op-ed pieces in major papers pointing out how capable they are and how science guides their policy. Kicking and screaming, Florida has finally offered some new criteria that the EPA has partly approved, yet the debate goes on.

The latest chapter was DEPs “celebration” party on Dec. 12, here in Fort Myers. Even DEP Secretary Hershel Vinyard showed up to promote the BMAP adoption.

Ninety percent of the plan projects have already been completed for the first 5-year cycle and 44 percent of the nitrogen reduction requirement has supposedly already been met for local urban areas. The BMAP partners are represented by local governments, regional and state agencies.

The BMAP technical advisory group determined that maintaining enough water clarity and coincident light transmission in San Carlos Bay to allow sea grass to grow at a depth where it occurred historically was a good way to measure overall success at reducing nitrogen. Unfortunately, the water clarity determined by local scientists over the past couple of years, has arguably trended in the wrong direction. To be fair, overall success of the estuary BMAP team will, unfortunately, be masked by the massive contribution of upriver flows (outside the local watershed) where 85 percent of the nitrogen pollution comes from.