Water watchdogs sound the alarm on nitrogen pollution
Officials responsible for reducing nitrogen levels from storm-water runoff each year into the Caloosahatchee River and Charlotte Harbor are not only failing, but failing to acknowledge the problems fully or budget for them, according to watchdog groups pushing for a more aggressive cleanup on the southwest coast.
Although waters in both Collier and Charlotte counties are also polluted, the epicenter of the cleanup failure is in Lee County, says John Cassani, chairman of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council, a nonprofit group of clean-water advocates.
“We’re way above the total maximum load of nitrogen the water can handle, so the state developed an action plan with about eight entities that signed agreements — one of them is Lee County,” he explains. Each is responsible to reduce their loads a bit each year.
A trade organization, Florida Realtors, announced in May that Lee County property values could be more than $540 million higher per year if the water quality improved along the coast, a sum that would generate $9.2 million in yearly property taxes, according to the county property appraiser.
The problem has become so bad where storm water runs off into coastal waters from Cape Coral that in August the Department of Environmental Protection declared Matlacha Pass, a 12,500-acre State Aquatic Preserve, “impaired” for nutrients — a humiliating and unfortunate first in the region, water advocates say. Forty-five State Aquatic Preserves preserves exist in Florida.