THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR MR LARRY ROBINSON AND HIS “CUB CLUB” THAT WILL BE FLYING INTO HISTORIC BUCKINGHAM FIELD AIRPORT CLOSE TO THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER IN LEE COUNTY; I THOUGHT THIS MIGHT BE OF INTERESTS TO ALL.
When flying into Buckingham Airport near Ft Meyers, one will surely get a view of the beautiful Caloosahatchee River that runs from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.
The river, named after the warlike Calusa Indians, has a great history and is unfortunately under great pressure due to man-made changes in its surrounding hydrology. The original lands of the watershed allowed for the waters of the Kissimmee Valley, near Orlando, to move south through the then winding Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, and then slowly make their way to the Florida Everglades.
Before the late 1880s, the Caloosahatchee was not truly connected to Lake Okeechobee; its headwaters started at Lake Hicpochee, west of today’s Clewiston. Marshlands filled from Lake Hicpochee to Lake Okeechobee in times of heavy rain “connecting” the waterway but this was not lasting.
In the late 1800s investor and land owner, Hamilton Disston, following an old Calusa Indian canal, connected the river permanently to Lake Okeechobee by digging a wide canal. This was done in order to drop the level of the lake and drain the surrounding lands for agricultural development.
Disston was not completely successful but he did inspire others to complete his work in the early 1920s.
People had been farming in Florida south of the Lake Okeechobee since the late 1800s as the muck was very rich and produced wonderful crops. But flooding was a constant issue.
After the horrific hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 that completely flooded the area south of the lake and took thousands of lives, the state of Florida begged the federal government for flooding assistance which resulted in the Cross State Canal being built from Ft Meyers to Stuart and the building of the Herbert Hoover Dike around southern Lake Okeechobee.
The canal allowed not only for east west navigation across the state, but also redirected the waters of Lake Okeechobee that traditionally flowed south to be sent east and west through nearby estuaries: the Caloosahatchee on the west and the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon on the east.
After another great storm and flood in 1948, and repeated outcry of the state and public, the Army Corps of Engineers “improved the system” through the Central and South Florida Project by widening and deepening already constructed canals and by building many more.
By the 1960 the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of the lake, became the number one sugar and vegetable producer of the state and one of the top in the nation; fortunes were made in the post-wartime era.
Simultaneous to the success of the EAA, development exploded along the two estuaries, the Caloosahatchee, and St Lucie/Southern Indian River Lagoon. Both of these areas depended heavily on fishing, tourism, and real estate values for their economies so when Lake Okeechobee would overflow and billions of gallons of fresh water would pour into the estuaries disturbing the brackish balance, killing seagrasses, destroying fishing stock and wildlife, of course these cities along the coasts complained.
Over time, even more people have moved the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie areas, and the massive population of Orlando has complicated the situation as “Orlando’s” polluted water full of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilized lawns and farmlands travels south filling Lake Okeechobee. Since the water cannot go south, it is redirected to the estuaries. As a result, the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries experience toxic algae blooms during heavy destructive discharges.
This “health and safety” situation came to a head recently during the summer of 2013 when the Army Corps released from Lake Okeechobee for five months straight: May 8th- October 21st. This time became known as the “Lost Sumer” as health departments warned citizens and pets to stay out of the water for months on end.
Due to public outcry, Florida Senator Joe Negron, chair of the Appropriations Committee, organized a “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin” that included studies of both estuaries. Congressman Patrick Murphy invited citizens to Washington DC.
The east and west coasts and many politicians unified during this time, thousands rallied, and news of the toxic waters was told by local, state, national and global media.
The Florida governor, state legislature, US Congress, along with “water managers,” Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, felt tremendous pressure to find alternative ways to store water and clean water north of the lake and to “send more water south.”
Under the 2013/14 state legislative sessions the state legislature and federal government designated monies for both estuaries to help abate these issues. Part of the Tamiami Trail was even “opened” to allow more water to flow south and plans are being made to lift and open more areas in the future. University of Florida water experts are studying the issue.
Unfortunately, in spite of what can be done, this is just the tip of the iceberg as the amount of water that needs to be redirected away from the estuaries is enormous, truly beyond comprehension. This is why many believe Everglades restoration plans are taking entirely too long and that we must find a way to fully restore the Kissimmee River and create a third outlet south of the lake.
South Florida Water Management District: Caloosahatchee River: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20protecting%20and%20restoring/caloosahatchee%20strategies)
Dept of Environmental Protection: Caloosahatchee River or C-43: (http://www.protectingourwater.org/watersheds/map/caloosahatchee/)
Caloosahatchee River Citizen’s Association, CRCA: (http://crca.caloosahatchee.org/about/?show=legacy)
Central and South Florida Project: (http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx)
Images of Toxic Algae Blooms Caloosahatchee River: (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=toxic+algae+blooms+caloosahatchee+river&qpvt=toxic+algae+blooms+caloosahatchee+river&FORM=IGRE)
ACOE Everglades Restoration: (http://www.evergladesplan.org)