An editorial in Fort Myers’ News-Press early this month stated that 2014 will be the year of the environment, but I think a better characterization would be that 2014 should be the year of the environment. For years, environmental issues have been discussed at the local, state and federal levels but there has been even less tangible progress.
With all of the news media focusing on Florida’s east coast and the Indian River Lagoon, we on the west coast must be just as vigilant and vocal about the future health of the Caloosahatchee River and how large periods of high rainfall could impact the river, its nutrient levels and flooding.
With all of this at stake, 2014 should be about significant funding for vital water projects. The only way to address this and many other water policy issues we will soon face is to embrace, encourage and increase our ability to collect and store water.
Agricultural lands, long seen as a nemesis to environmental conservation, could provide us with the answer to large and damaging fresh water releases to the San Carlos Bay estuary. Large tracts of privately held agricultural lands offer a low-cost alternative to store water during large periods of rainfall. Dispersed water storage, as it’s known in regulatory terms, allows for water to be captured and held as shallow wetlands providing wildlife habitat restoration and aquifer recharge, as well as protecting urban areas from flooding and runoff containing high levels of nutrients.
In 2012 lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 1389 encouraging public-private partnerships that allow for the storage of water on agricultural lands. They got it right then and now it’s time for us to encourage them to continue that charge and fund dispersed water storage projects. Let’s make 2014 the year we obtain the necessary funding to preserve and protect the Caloosahatchee River and our coastal estuaries.