Sanibel H2O Matters
Water is the lifeblood of Sanibel Island. It regulates the types of plants that grow on our island, it supports the diverse populations of wildlife that make Sanibel their home, it provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, and it is the basis for our local economy.
Water is an integral part of daily life on Sanibel, and therefore, it is critical as stewards of this sanctuary island that we protect this important resource that defines our community. Sanibel has embraced an ecological vision that puts the natural environment at the top of its hierarchical values. Our citizens recognize the connection between the natural environment and our quality of life and have supported policies and programs that protect and improve water quality in our own back yards. While the community has made protecting our water resources a top priority, there are influences outside of the boundaries of Sanibel that can impact the quality of our coastal waters. Decisions made as far away as Orlando, in the headwaters of the Kissimmee watershed, can affect the quality of Sanibel’s waters. Our community must remain vigilant and work closely with our State and Federal legislators to ensure that projects and policies that protect and improve Sanibel’s water quality are implemented in a timely manner.
Message from Sanibel City Council
Overview and Impacts of the 2013 Freshwater Discharges
In summer of 2013, regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee combined with stormwater runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed resulted in large volumes of freshwater being discharged to the Caloosahatchee estuary. A dark colored freshwater plume extended into San Carlos Bay, Pine Island Sound, and offshore into the Gulf of Mexico more than 15 miles along Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. This occurred for several reasons: 1.) a lack of available water storage within the Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie, and Caloosahatchee watersheds; 2.) record wet-season rainfall throughout south Florida; and 3.) Lake Okeechobee stage exceeded 13 feet at the beginning of the rainy season.
Links to Aerial Photos of Freshwater Plume (pdf 9.43 MB)
Upper Photo: Freshwater plume extending past Point Ybel
Lower Photo: Freshwater plume extending out Redfish Pass
What is at Stake?
Sanibel is a world renowned tourism destination frequently ranked among the top beach tourism destinations in the world. Link to Sanibel Awards (pdf 80.65 kB) Our pristine beaches and natural environment provide a quality of life for our citizens second to none. Our unique plant species, plentiful wildlife, and shell-covered beaches attract visitors from all over the world to enjoy our good nature.
In Lee County, tourism generates more than $2.7 billion dollars annually. Real estate tax revenue in Lee County alone is more than $293 million annually.
More than $400 million is contributed from Lee and Collier Counties from bed tax, sales tax, gas tax, and local tax. Lee and Collier Counties had more than $147 billion in real estate assessed values in 2013; and generated more than $1.9 billion in property tax revenue. Tourism in Lee and Collier Counties combined generates more than $4.3 billion annually, which supports more than 85,000 jobs. In Lee and Collier Counties real estate assessed values amount to more than $147 billion.
Water quality impacts to our coastal communities can affect consumer confidence. This can have a trickledown effect on local businesses, resulting in lost revenue and jobs.
What is the City doing to address this problem?
- Continuing to implement programs and policies that protect water quality in our own backyards, community lakes, and canals;
- Building on past efforts and accumulated science;
- Focusing our messaging on the economic impacts;
- Partnering with Lee County, local municipalities, our Island Partners (SCCF and J.N. Ding Darling NWR), and east coast stakeholders;
- Communicating with our local legislative delegation, House of Representatives, Congressmen, State Senators, and the Governor’s Office to implement short- and long-term solutions;Video Governor Scott’s Press Conference in Ft. Myers
- City Council adopted a list of Federal and State Water Quality Legislative priorities. This list includes recommendations for short- and long-term policy changes and projects that will help address the damaging high- and low-flow issues within the Caloosahatchee.
City Council Water Priorities Document Link (pdf 151.74 kB)
City Council Water Priorities Document Link - Double Sided (pdf 123.74 kB)
Sanibel's Federal Water Resource Priorities
Adopt WRDA 2013 – the Water Resources Development Act of 2013– is absolutely critical to providing the funding needed for large-scale projects, such as the C-43 West Basin Storage reservoir, that will provide additional water storage and long-term relief from the Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases. The Senate passed its version of WRDA in May 2013 and the House passed its version (called WRRDA – the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013) in October 2013. Now the Senate and House bills need to be reconciled and a final version approved. We’re maintaining continual contact with our Senators and Congressmen and local Legislative Delegation to encourage their support for WRRDA.
Letters to Legislators Requesting Support WRDA 2013 (pdf 201.26 kB)
Fast track the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) – this project includes several project components that will allow more water to be sent south of Lake Okeechobee. When completed, it will move approximately 210,000 acre-feet of water south into Everglades National Park
The Federal Government needs to fund their share of The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) – The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was supposed to be implemented through a 50/50 cost share between the Federal Government, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the lead agency, and the State of Florida, with the South Florida Water Management District as the local sponsor. Congress has not passed a WRDA bill since 2007, resulting in a no new CERP projects being authorized or funded in the past 6 years. The State has outspent the Federal Government by approximately $222.7 million, resulting in a current cost split for CERP of 56/44 in favor of the State1. This is now resulting in project delays and a backlog of federal projects. We need support from the U.S Senate and Congressional leaders to authorize critical CERP projects and to appropriate funds needed to construct them in a timely manner.
Continue to keep pressure on the Corps to rehabilitate the Herbert Hoover Dike. The goal is not to maintain the Lake higher and store more water in the Lake permanently, but to allow for more operational flexibility in the event of an emergency to reduce the need for the Corps to have to discharge large volumes of freshwater to the estuaries.
Revisit the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS2008) risk assessment to determine if there are any opportunities to minimize discharges to the estuaries in light of recent improvements in the Herbert Hoover Dike; and to reevaluate how flows to the Caloosahatchee are measured under the LORS2008 schedule to make regulatory release more equitable.
Sanibel's State Resource Priorities
The City supports the draft recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Indian River lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin (IRLLOB), led by Senator Joe Negron and Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, which includes short-and long-term solutions, including policy changes and project funding to address the high-flow discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Purchase additional lands south of Lake Okeechobee at fair market value, acquire private easements, or swap existing State-owned lands for the critical lands needed to facilitate storage, treatment and conveyance of water south into Everglades National Park.The State currently owns 26,790 acres of land that was purchased for $197,396,088 ($7,400/acre) from U.S. Sugar Corp. as part of the Reviving the River of Grass Project, with an option to purchase an additional 153,209 acres. The State should acquire lands needed to store, treat and convey water south through purchase from willing sellers, acquisition of private easements, or by swapping existing non-essential state-owned lands to acquire the footprint needed to effectively store, treat and convey water south through the Everglades Agricultural Area.
US Sugar Lands Map (pdf 5.07 MB)
Interim storage on C-43 West Reservoir site– Project would significantly increase the amount of water that can be stored on the C-43 West Reservoir (Berry Groves) property until the full project is completed. It would require additional infrastructure, including building berms and installing larger pumps to put more water on the site. This would be considered phase I of the larger C-43 West Reservoir CERP project and could be included in the state cost share for the federal project. Estimated cost of the interim storage project is $10 million. In addition, the 1,500 acres of land purchased as part of the Berry Groves acquisition should be used to construct a stormwater treatment area (STA) adjacent to the reservoir to treat water before it is discharged into the Caloosahatchee.
Lake Hicpochee Restoration Project– Funds needed to complete planning and construction on north and south sides of Lake Hicpochee to increase storage and treatment. Estimated cost for planning and construction is $20-30 million. Project will result in increased water storage and treatment within the Caloosahatchee basin.
Increase distributed storage in Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee, and Caloosahatchee basins. Additional funds are needed for the state to partner with large land owners in the Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee basins to store more water on the land so that it is not discharged to Lake Okeechobee or to the Caloosahatchee River. No cost estimate available, but new partners could be brought on as funds become available.
City Council 2013 Water Quality Action Timeline
- November 6, 2013, Mayor Ruane and Director Evans met with Congressman Mario Diaz-Belart in Miami, FL to discuss short- and long-term strategies for addressing the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee.
- November 5, 2013, Meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin. Committee approves Final Draft Report and Recommendations
- October 1st – 3rd Mayor Ruane, Vice Mayor Congress, and Director Evans traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Congressional Fly-in and briefing on the Lake Okeechobee Freshwater Releases hosted by Congressman Radel and Congressman Murphy. The Sanibel delegation met with key Congressional leaders or their staff while in D.C., including Congressman John Mica, Congresswoman Lois Frankel, Congressman Dan Webster, Congressman Tom Rooney, Congressman Bill Young, and Congressman Steve Southerland
- September 24, 2013, Mayor Ruane travels to Tallahassee to attend and provide testimony at the second Senate Select Committee Meeting on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin
- September 5, 2013, Lee County and the City of Sanibel hosted a Town Hall Meeting at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center in Fort Myers. The goal of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for the citizens of Lee County and Sanibel to hear directly from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District on the reasons why the freshwater releases were occurring and to be able ask questions and provide feedback to the agencies.
- August 28, 2013,Governor Scott visited Fort Myers to announce additional funding for water storage projects, including a commitment to provide $90 million in State funding for an additional 2.6 miles of bridging along Tamiami Trail to increase flow south into Everglades National Park.
- August 22, 2013, Mayor Ruane testified at Senate Select Committee on Indian River lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin (IRLLOB) Hearing in Stuart, FL.
August 21, 2013, Sanibel City Council convened a special meeting to update the public on the City’s water resource efforts and to discuss next steps.
City Council - Special Meeting 8/21/13 Water Quality Presentation (pdf 1.59 MB)
- August 18- 20, 2013, Mayor Ruane and Director Evans traveled to Tallahassee to meet with Senate Select Committee staffers and the Governor’s Chief of Staff to discuss the Caloosahatchee water releases.
- August 17, 2013, Mayor was Master of Ceremonies at past President’s Luncheon and carried City’s water quality message.
- August 16, 2013, Mayor met with Governor Scott; Martin and Palm Beach County officials; Senator Nelson’s staff; and FLC President’s Nominating Committee to discuss Caloosahatchee water resource issues.
- August 15, 2103, Mayor spoke with Governor’s Chief of Staff to express the City’s concerns about the freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
- August 14, 2013, Mayor Ruane and City Council Members participated in various meetings at the Florida League of Cities meeting in Orlando to communicate our water quality message.
- August 09, 2013, Senate Select Committee agenda was amended to include Mayor Ruane.
- August 08, 2013, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto includes Mayor Ruane on the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin agenda to testify regarding the impacts of the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee.
- August 07, 2013, Mayor Ruane met with Congressman Trey Radel to discuss the impacts of the freshwater releases and how they have impacted Sanibel’s economy and local businesses.
- August 06, 2013, City Council convened a regular meeting where the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee basin were discussed strategies to address the situation. Council voted to appoint Mayor Ruane lead Councilmember on the freshwater discharges; and to focus the message on the economic impacts.
- August 02, 2013, Mayor Ruane and Director Evans met with representatives from Lee County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the South Florida Water Management District to discuss discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the impact that these discharges can have on the ecological resources of the Caloosahatchee River and estuary and the economic impact that it could have on the local economy.