Caloosahatchee River Summit Draws Hundreds to Discuss Lake Okeechobee Releases
Caloosahatchee River water quality concerns drew hundreds of people to a daylong summit Wednesday to hear — and often debate — ways to protect one of Southwest Florida’s most important natural assets.
Some 400 people — fishermen, farmers, hoteliers, environmentalists, Realtors — attended the “Save Our Water” event sponsored jointly by The News-Press and the Naples Daily News at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort and Spa.
The mood was set early as the event began with attendees standing and calling out in unison the message on the placards they held in the air: “Save Our Water!”
The Caloosahatchee, like the St. Lucie River on the state’s east coast, acts as a relief valve for Lake Okeechobee when water in the lake gets too high and risks breaching a levee that protects farming communities on the lake’s southern edge.
Those discharges have been blamed for choking the St. Lucie estuary with guacamole-thick algae blooms and sending plumes of brown water into the Caloosahatchee estuary, upsetting the balance of fresh and salt water, killing sea grasses and oyster beds and chasing away fish and crabs.
This year has been particularly devastating, as heavy rains already have sent 55 percent more water into the lake than in all of 2015, prompting weeks of ongoing discharges.