Tag Archives: environmental conservation

Conservation 20/20 Program Adds More Land

 

The Conservation 20/20 Program has added more land to its already existing 25,000  acres that it has under its stewardship. The program has been in existence since 1996 when voters passed a referendum to tax themselves so environmentally sensitive land could be set aside for air and water purification, public recreation and wildlife habitat.

The approximately 25,000 acres now under county stewardship  represents about 3% of Lee County’s 775,000 total acreage. Some Environmentalists and Urban Planners think that a county’s total land area should consist of between 10% to 20% of preserves and green spaces.

The 3 tracts of land that were purchased recently include 12.2 acres in N. Ft. Myers, 91.7 acres in Olga/Alva which has frontage along the Caloosahatchee River and 7.9 acres near the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island.

It is especially important now that available land be added to the conservation program because the county has seen rapid growth of population and land development in recent years. Only 474 acres have been added to the land stewardship program since 2015. Additional tracts of land are currently being looked at for purchase.

The pictures shown above are of the Hickey Mitigation Park which are part of the Conservation 20/20 purchases. Hickeys Creek contains about 862 acres of environmentally sensitive land located just south and along the Caloosahatchee River between Olga and Alva in Lee County. It has excellent walking trails and kayak/canoe opportunities for visitors. Visitors can view pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes,  cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, and oak-palm forests. Visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is Priority for Lee County in 2017

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is a priority in Lee County in 2017 according to Lee County Board of Commissioners. The Lee County Commissioners layed out their priorities for 2017 and they are 1. Water Quality 2.  Land Conservation and 3. Justice, and improved services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Water Quality has been a contentious issue for Lee County residents for several years because of the unsightly and harmful algae blooms and brown water that has been covering our beaches, canals and estuaries for several years. Last year was an especially bad year for dirty water coming down the Caloosahatchee River which was largely the result of large releases of water from Lake Okeechobee.

The Lee County Commissioners plan to ask for $1.38 million dollars from the state and to add an additional $2 Million dollars from the county for water quality improvement. The money will be spent over 4 projects including plugging wells to help out underground aquifers, rehabilitation of the Caloosahatchee River, improving the filtration system at Lakes Park and hydrological restoration at the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve.

The private sector organization in Lee County, Fla. named Calusa Waterkeepers is part of a worldwide organization called Waterkeeper Alliance which advocates clean water for the rivers, bays, lakes and other bodies of water in and around the Caloosahatchee Watershed. The Waterkeeper Alliance is made up of 300 affiliated organizations worldwide and their stated goal is swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oil Fracking bill dies in State Senate

Oil Drilling Rig in Caracara Preserve, Naples,FL

Oil Drilling Rig in Caracara Preserve, Naples, FL

 

 

 

 

 

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The controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas from the ground in Florida is being debated in the state legislature in Florida. One senator in the state legislature wanted to introduce and pass through a bill that would allow fracking companies to operate in Florida under certain conditions. Some environmental groups including the Conservancy of SW Florida vehemently opposed the bill and many people sent in angry emails attacking the proposed bill.

The cities of Bonita Springs and Estero have already passed local laws that prohibit the Fracking method of drilling for oil and natural gas within their city limits. The state law that was proposed would have given authority to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and give permits to oil drilling companies.

The efforts to allow Fracking in Florida is not over and it is up to market forces, and the price of oil worldwide which will put pressure on Florida’s landowners to allow oil drilling to some degree. The oil drilling rig shown in the picture above is pumping about 100 barrels of oil per day in the Caracara Preserve in Naples. The oil drilling rights were maintained by the landowner even though the land is used as a nature preserve and cattle grazing area.

Environmentalists argue that Florida’s very sensitive system of underground aquifers which supply most of the drinking water to Florida’s residents should not be jeopardized by oil drilling and Fracking. Fracking opponents say that the chemicals that are pumped underground to release the oil and natural gas would contaminate and destroy the water in our aquifers. The National Geographic Society has produced a concise 2 minute video which explains the Fracking process and where it is currently being used in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation

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The popular land conservation program in Lee County known as Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation will be put back on the November ballot in order to be reconsidered by voters for it’s extension into future years. The 5 Lee County Commissioners voted 4-1 to put the program back on the ballot so that voters can decide if they want to keep taxing themselves to purchase, restore and manage environmentally sensitive land.

The Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation program has been in existence since 1996 when a referendum was put on the ballot and was subsequently approved by voters. Concerned citizens back in the early 1990’s were worried that environmentally sensitive land was being gobbled up by developers and our green spaces and aquifer recharge areas were being lost. The 20/20 program has spent $316 million dollars since the programs inception to buy 24,931 acres of land in Lee County. That is a little under 5% of the total land area in Lee County which has 520,629 acres within it’s boundaries.

Some early advocates of the land conservation program stated that other counties in Florida set aside over 10% of it’s land for preserves and open spaces. The Lee County Commissioners thought it wise to let voters and citizens reevaluate the program and decide for themselves whether they want to continue being taxed to buy land as they become available. Last year, many people were upset that county commissioners used funds from the program to cover shortfalls for the general county budget needs. The citizens of Florida passed Amendment 1 in last years elections to buy environmentally sensitive land for restoration, water storage and wildlife habitat areas. Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 program has a website at leegov.com/conservation2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Okeechobee lowers water levels to protect Levees

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The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District began opening the flood gates to Lake Okeechobee to lower the water levels in the lake which have risen to over 15 ½ feet. Anything over that level is deemed dangerous to the levee system which surrounds the lake. The water is being released down the Caloosahatchee River at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second. The heavy rains from this winter season have saturated the lands which drain into the Kissimmee River water basin where the lake gets much of it’s water supply.

Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by a levee system of dirt and concrete steel berms that extend for 143 miles around the lake. Lake Okeechobee is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the United States and is 730 sq. miles. across its surface. The levee system was started in 1915 and enlarged by the Army Corp. of Engineers to protect the people and town south of the lake from flooding when the lakes’ waters traditionally overflowed its banks and travelled south towards the Everglades. Hurricanes in the 1920’s and 1940’s caused massive flooding when the levees were breeched and flood waters from the lake resulted in loss of life for the people living near the lake. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers were connected to the lake to create a navigable waterway between the east and west coast of Florida and to create spillways for lake water when Lake Okeechobee gets too high.

The problem with the massive water releases from the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie River Estuaries are the large amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are in the lake water which causes algae blooms and fish die-offs when it reaches the brackish and salty waters in the river and the Gulf of Mexico. City leaders on Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach, home owners, environmentalists and tourists are not happy when they see the river and beaches fouled  by dead fish, and brown colored water. They want the state and federal government to speed up the process of creating water basins which can be used to hold some of these water releases instead of the rivers being used as spillways and discharge points. The problem seems to be the cost of creating these water storage basins along the river and south Lake Okeechobee which can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. State legislators and the federal government have been hard pressed to spend the extra money which is needed to protect our fragile environment.

 

 

 

 

Salt Water Marshes are Carbon Sinks

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Salt Water Marshes that surround some of our coastlines act as a carbon sink or repositories for vast quantities of carbon dioxide which is the main fossil fuel that causes global warming. Theses carbon sinks prevent the fossil fuels from entering the atmosphere. Scientists think that Salt Water Marshes, Mangroves and Sea Grasses can hold ten times as much carbon dioxide as the large trees in our forests. With global warming and sea level rise  becoming an ever bigger threat to our cities and towns we should protect and preserve these marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds wherever and whenever we can.  Mangroves and marshes which line our coastlines also serve to prevent erosion of our beaches and shores and provide an important habitat and ecosystem for marine life.

The problem with our coastlines is that they have been under attack by natural causes such as hurricanes and storms for thousands of years and man made obstacles such as waterfront homes, roads and commercial developments.  We have harmed and sometimes destroyed this natural buffer from the sea by altering the landscape near the coastlines.

The pictures shown above are of the salt water marshes around Amelia Island in northern Florida and birds occupying the salt water mangroves on Sanibel Island. Amelia Island and Sanibel Island seem to get it right by their conservation efforts to protect and preserve their coastal habitats. The National Ocean Service of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration explains how salt water marshes provide a vital link to the fish, birds mammals, and mollusks which depend on them for survival as well as preventing coastal erosion. The  NOAA Service Education also  has a good website which gives an illustration of salt marshes, mud flats and their benefits to wildlife and mankind. New Orleans is a good example of what can happen to a city when it’s coastal marshes and coastal barriers become diminished due to man made causes. Their salt water marshes have been diminished greatly over the years and their city is at greater risk for flooding, wind damage from storms and sea level rise.

 

 

 

 

 

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program – CHNEP

CHNEP Area

CHNEP Area

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program – CHNEP  is an effort by concerned citizens, public officials, scientists, environmental advocates and others to try and improve the waterways and water quality of the Charlotte Harbor Watershed. The Charlotte Harbor Watershed encompasses 4,700 sq. miles in and around Charlotte Harbor.  The area of concern reaches as far north as Venice,  Winter Haven to the northeast  and Bonita Springs to the south. There are several rivers and estuaries which are included in this area of study including the Myakka and Peace Rivers which empty into the Charlotte Harbor, Caloosahatchee River, Pine Island Sound, and Estero Bay to name a few. The area contains cities, cattle pastures, citrus groves, pine flatwoods and cypress swamps. The boundary of the 4,700 sq mile area can be seen in the illustration at the top of this article. Click on the illustration for a larger image.

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary became an “Estuary of National Significance” many years after passage of the Clean Water Act by Congress. The Clean Water Act was passed in the 1940’s and amended in 1972 to stop the pollution of our rivers and waterways by industry and other sources.  The Charlotte Harbor Watershed is of primary concern for many people because of its size, 17th largest in the nation and 2nd in size as an open water estuary. It is used by many people and tourists for fishing, boating, swimming and as a body of water bordering their homes. Charlotte Harbor is also famous for it’s Tarpon fishing.

The Gulf of Mexico and the rivers feeding into the Gulf of Mexico have been plagued by Red Tides and Algae Blooms which have been intensified by the nutrient laden waters and chemicals that flow into the watershed. Some of the pollutants include activities from farming, pesticides, fertilizers, phosphate mining, urban storm water runoff, underground septic tanks and other sources.  The CHNEP established a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan that addresses these and 4 other areas of concern. These are 1. Water Quality 2. Hydrologic Alterations 3. Fish and Wildlife habitat 4. Stewardship Gap  Click on the 2013 Summary to read and learn about the latest scientific findings.

Other organizations monitor the water quality and flood protection for this region including 2 state water districts and the Environmental Protection Agency. All citizens and visitors to Southwest Florida who want a clean environment should be interested and support the efforts of CHNEP. They also publish great calendars.

illustration above reprinted with permission from CHNEP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Develop or Not Develop Land in Bonita Springs

CREW Marsh Trail

CREW Marsh Trail

Shallow Water Marsh at CREW

Shallow Water Marsh at CREW

The future of 5,000 acres of land in Bonita Springs which lies in an area called a “Density Reduction Groundwater Recharge” area or DRGR is being debated between land developers and environmentalists.  Environmentalists prefer to keep the area a green space or undeveloped piece of land geared towards letting rain seep into the ground and recharge our underground aquifers. Aquifers are where most of our drinking water comes from.

A large swath of land called Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed contains over 82,000 acres of undeveloped land in Lee County and Collier County and lies near the 5,000 acres in Bonita Springs. The land in Bonita Springs has been designated by the state of Florida as a water recharge area.

Proponents of developing this piece of land argue that the land is already degraded by its use as a dumping ground for used tires, various kinds of refuse and for mining operations. They argue that developing the land will actually improve the environment. Critics argue that developing this piece of land will destroy green spaces and water recharge areas. The Ft. Myers News Press ran an article on Wed. April, 1st called “A City Divided “ which contains both sides of the argument. The picture in this post shows a marsh with shallow water which lies within The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. Visit their website and learn more about water conservation and wildlife habitat. Take note of the guided hikes through CREW, Strolling Science Seminars, Bird Rookery Swamp and habitat for wildlife.

The pictures in this post are not of the disputed land near Bonita Springs but are of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.  http://www.crewtrust.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Okeechobee Cleanup Efforts

Fishing in Lake Okeechobee

Fishing in Lake Okeechobee

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Lake Okeechobee means “big water” in Seminole Indian language. The lake is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the U.S. covering 730 sq. miles on its’ surface. Its’ average depth is only 9 ft. but can vary substantially with the rainy season and with the canals, tributaries and sheet flow of water feeding into it. The canals and tributaries bring with them harmful quantities of phosphorous, nitrogen and pollutants from nearby farms, cattle ranches, mining operations and urban areas. The lake has many thousands of tons of phosphorous in the bottom which makes the lake harmful for fish, drinking water or release into the Everglades for which it was intended.

The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and South Florida water Management District has been working for years to help purify or make cleaner the lakes water by creating Water Conservation Areas (WCA)  and Storm Water Treatment Area’s  (STA) which are used as storage basins for some of the lakes water. The WCA’s and STA’s which are composed of thousands of acres of land are used to help  filter the polluted water of nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants before it is sent to the Everglades or communities where it may be used as drinking water or marshes and wetlands which serve as habitat for wildlife. When the lake reaches dangerous levels approaching 15 ft., the USACE has no choice but to use the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers as release points to flush billions of gallons of lake water out of the lake so that nearby towns surrounding lake Okeechobee will not be threatened with flooding.

The area around the lake has been in the news lately because of the option for the state legislature to buy large tracts of land surrounding the lake for environmental purposes. The state legislature has not been unanimous in their effort to buy land for millions of dollars. They have been urged by environmentalists and those who want to continue the cleanup efforts to buy this land and direct the flow of water southward towards the Everglades and not through the estuaries east and west of the lake. The South Florida Water Management District has some good information about the cleanup efforts about Lake Okeechobee on their website.

 

 

Environmental Conservation – Nicodemus Slough

Nicodemus Slough

Nicodemus Slough

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The South Florida Water Management District is putting into use fallow farm land near Lake Okeechobee to store billions of gallons of water that would otherwise have been released down the Caloosahatchee River. The water storage area called the Nicodemus Slough will be able to filter nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous out of the water. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers releases billions of gallons of nutrient laden water out of the large lake whenever it’s level approaches 15 feet. Hurricanes in the past have pushed water over the lakes levees flooding nearby towns and causing many deaths. The Corp of Engineers releases billions of gallons of water down the Caloosahatchee to the west and St. Lucie river to the east causing many water and beach problems for residents on both coasts. Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous cause large algae blooms producing an ugly and foul slimy surface on the water surface and fish die offs. The Nicodemus Slough which is located on 16,000 acres of unused farmland just west of Lake Okeechobee will collect some of these water releases and hopefully lessen some of the Caloosahatchee’s and St. Lucie’s  water problems.

Picture courtesy of South Florida water Management District.

http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/sfwmdmain/home%20page