Addressing Water Quality in Our Backyards

Advocacy & Policy,

Addressing Water Quality in Our Backyards

By Josh Goergen, Government Relations Manager, MBA 

While it felt like it was a never-ending process, we finally made some headway on the Army Corps’ plan for a new Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual, or LOSOM. Late last year, the Army Corps announced that they’re moving forward with their selected model.

If you’re not familiar with LOSOM, it is the guide that the Corps uses for releases from Lake Okeechobee and will have a direct impact on Southwest Florida for at least the next 10 years. When the Corps initially announced alternative CC as their preferred plan, many Southwest Florida residents spoke out against the plan as it increased the number of discharges to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. Many individuals and stakeholder groups, including SWFL Inc., sent multiple letters to the Army Corps and their leadership team outlining the changes we wanted to see during the optimization phase, such as measuring all discharges at the S-79 Franklin Locks and limiting discharges to no more than 2100 CFS. Although we didn’t get everything we had asked for, we understand that the new plan must be balanced, and there must be a shared distribution of discharges east, west, and south. The Army Corps has made it clear that our voices were heard with their decision.

This decision highlights the importance of being both vocal and consistent on water quality issues with our local leaders and policy makers. Through a unified regional voice, the Southwest Florida community had a meaningful impact on the forthcoming LOSOM. While this is a win for water quality, this is just one tiny component of solving our water issues. And while many different groups want to place all the blame on water supply and agriculture interest, there are many things we can be doing in our own communities that can help improve our water quality.

Actions like limiting the number of fertilizers we use in our neighborhoods and golf communities is a small step Southwest Florida residents can take that will help reduce the pollutants that enter our water. Residents can encourage their elected officials to fund critical infrastructure projects that clean our water and advocate for local policies that minimize urban and rural runoff, such as septic to sewer conversion and sustainable stormwater management.

Although converting every single septic tank to sewer may be too expensive for Southwest Florida, funding that targets high priority areas where septic tanks are near Caloosahatchee River, the surrounding estuaries, and our islands should be some of the areas that should be considered first.

Even after completing the above actions items, they are still just a fraction of what needs to be done. As residents, we can’t afford to wait on the federal government any longer to complete their projects. We can and must start by addressing our water quality issues in our backyard and focus on the policies we can control locally.