Water solutions still a priority, puzzle for local lawmakers
The News-Press editorial board met with six members of the Southwest Florida legislative delegation on Thursday, discussing a wide-range of issues but with a particular focus on water quality and their roles in protecting the Caloosahatchee from harmful discharges coming from Lake Okeechobee and how those discharges not only impact the environment but also the economy.
This is a legislative group carrying more clout on the floors of their respective chambers than in past years. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is chair of the rules committee, which means she decides which bills the Senate discusses and moves forward. Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, is in one of the top positions in the House as the majority leader; Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, is the House Majority Whip; Rep. Matt Caldwell is chair of the government accountability committee; and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is chair of the ethics and elections committee.
This water issue – restoration of the Everglades, redirecting Lake O discharges into storage reservoirs and treatment areas and finding additional money to keep these programs moving – remains political dynamite between governmental officials, environmentalists and Southwest Florida residents, and the legislative group knows it, based on what was shared with the editorial board.
What we do know is that this is no longer just an environmental issue. It is also an economic one. People do not want to visit Florida if the water is dirty, smells or is unsafe. And as Passidomo pointed out, jobs are on the line as the state looks to buy more agricultural land south of the lake for storage. “Every time the state purchases land, it takes it out of production," Passidomo said. "You won’t be able to grow on that land. If this continues, we will be paying $20 for a tomato from Venezuela. There are more than just environmental impacts.