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Captains for Clean Water meet to stop Lake Okeechobee releases

Captains for Clean Water meet to stop Lake Okeechobee releases
Captains for Clean Water hosted a meeting at Bass Pro Shops Friday night to talk about the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and how it is affecting their lives on the water. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Approximately 200 concerned fishermen, boat charter captains and Southwest Florida residents packed a conference room in the Fort Myers Bass Pro Shops to voice their concerns and raise awareness about the water crisis in Southwest Florida.

Captains for Clean Water (CFCW), a grassroots movement that was founded by local fishing captains, held an open forum at the Bass Pro Shops in Gulf Coast Town Center on Friday Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. The forum was intended to educate attendees on how Southwest Florida is being affected by the lake’s runoff, which began again due to strong rains caused by El Niño.

Chris Wittmore talks solutions to fixing the Lake Okeechobee water crisis during Friday night's open forum. Captains for Clean Water hosted a meeting at Bass Pro Shops  to talk about the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and how it is affecting their lives on the water. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Chris Wittmore talks solutions to fixing the Lake Okeechobee water crisis during Friday night’s open forum. Captains for Clean Water hosted a meeting at Bass Pro Shops to talk about the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and how it is affecting their lives on the water. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Record-high rain levels have caused the Okeechobee dike to fill with more water than planned for, sitting approximately four inches over the preferred water levels. In effort to relieve pressure on the nearly 90-year-old dike, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began releasing billions of gallons of water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers in January.

“We want to partner with our elective officials to fix this,” said Captain Daniel Andrews of Andrews Charters. “We want to move forward in positive and work together to get things done.”

Freshwater mixing with saltwater can have devastating effects on local marine life. It can cause benthic animals, such as oysters and clams, and delicate sea grass to die. The grass can then wash up on Southwest Florida’s shores and take years to grow back. Freshwater can also be devastating to fish populations such as snook, tarpon and redfish that rely on estuaries to survive.

In Southwest Florida, water resources are affecting not only fishermen and boat charters, who rely on water quality for a living, but tourists, local businesses and real estate agents and developers as well.

“This is an economic situation as well as an ecological situation,” said Chris Whittman, a Coast Guard licensed Master Fishing Captain at Stillwater Charters. “The way our dollars work in our community is this will touch each and every person in this community in some way.”

CFCW demanded that the money allocated to the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee through Amendment 1 be used after two years of no progress. Once the land is purchased, CFCW wants the water to flow south through the Everglades instead of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. CFCW also wants representation for fishermen on the South Florida Water Management District Board.

“We can’t expect the water to be clean tomorrow,” Whittman said. “We need to make our voices heard as a whole Southwest Florida issue.”

Captains for Clean Water hosted a meeting at Bass Pro Shops Friday night to talk about the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and how it is affecting their lives on the water. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Nearly 200 fishermen, boat charter captains and concerned Southwest Florida residents attended Captains for Clean Water forum at Bass Pro Shops Friday night to talk about the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and how it is affecting their lives on the water. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

CFCW formed when Andrews and Captain Josh Constantine of Caloosahatchee Cowboy Charters met with Fort Myers mayor Randy Henderson in early February. The organization is pushing for state legislatures to assist in purchasing the land directly south of Lake Okeechobee to construct storage needed to constrain the water.

“A lot of these guys, like Mayor Henderson, have the best intentions, but they don’t see it every day,” Andrews said. “It’s our job to let them know. They have murders and other kinds of terrible things happen in Fort Myers; this is not the first thing on their desk every morning, and it’s our job to make it the first thing.”

Members of local government attended the meeting, showing support for CFCW including Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki along with Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane.

“We’re looking for the whole solution,” Ruane said. “I want the lake to be reinforced. Why? Because right now, we don’t have a solution. We could buy land, we could do whatever. And I want to do that. When we go to Washington we’re going to talk to the Army Corps of Engineers, because I want that problem eliminated.”

During the meeting, CFCW urged younger citizens, such as those at FGCU, to get involved with their mission by taking to social media to raise awareness.

Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane speaks during Friday night's Captains for Clean Water meeting at Bass Pro Shops. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane speaks during Friday night’s Captains for Clean Water meeting at Bass Pro Shops. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

“If you tell 1,000 people about this issue,” said PJ Shiner, who proposed his plan to film a documentary on the crisis. “You’ll have 1,000 people demanding for it to be fixed.”

More information on CFCW can be found on its Facebook page and at captainsforcleanwater.org.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Follow the money didn’t we vote to tax to allow for monies for this issue who spent it and on what. Good intensions are nice but when there is money diverted from what it’s intension was nothing will change

  2. Avatar

    Great work captains!

  3. Avatar

    The politicians in Tallahassee already spent that money elsewhere. The politicians Do NOT give a shit about the environment. They just passed a fracking bill to destroy our aquifers for Gods sake.

  4. Avatar

    …as Rubio looks the other way.

  5. Avatar

    Why doesn’t anyone say anything about the new landfill right next to lake okeechobee! While in Moore Haven go west on hwy 27 to hwy 78 go north less than two miles. It’s on the right! That is a toxic dump right next to the canal that runs right to the lock. Then, it runs straight down the caloosahatche river to the SW beaches. IT IS DEFINITELY A PROBLEM FOR SW FLORIDA TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE!!!!

  6. Avatar

    Who is this group Captains For Clean Water? I just checked their website and it says they are a non-profit IRS expect charity. That’s impossible for them to get approved in the month they have been organized. They seem like a FRAUD. Probably being paid by some of the activist groups trying to convince politicians to give them some Florida land to manage and then have the government (taxpayers) support them and their organization int he future. The water in Lake O is clean. Ask any fisherman in the area. Water problems in Florida come from he north.

  7. Avatar

    95% of the water that enters Lake O. comes from the north and it enters six times faster than the lake can release it to the south. The logical solution is to have water storage north of Lake O. That would meet environmental standards and provide sufficient water in the Lake Service Area.

  8. Avatar

    What a bunch of crooks! These guys aren’t fighting for Lake O. They are just trying to secure the land in the South to gain control. In actuality, the issue that is destroying the environment is the septic tanks discharging and killing wildlife.

  9. Avatar

    It is the government’s job to guard the public good of course our politicians won’t come up with a solution to water releases because once again the Corp of engineers have no responsibility for polluting the planet water releases can’t stop because the levies weren’t built strong enough for more water retention this pollution will only get worse once again the government’s actions are irreversible so we are stuck with politicians covering up there ineptitude by talking about water releases rather than controlling the real problem stopping the production of massive agricultural and the anemic laws in controlling human waste from entering our water

  10. Avatar

    This has been an issue for a long time money was taxed and residents paid it to clean up and purchase the land Scott the so called governor has made use of the money else where and has stood fast not doing anything and pointing the finger else where. It is time to stop hold him accountable for using the money for what it was taxed for. In addition purchase the land fix the flow problem and put limits if not stop entirely the chemicals used that poison the water quality and have an ongoing testing. This is a major benefit to Florida and why a lot of us moved here. His failure to understand that shows a large lack in his ability to manage any part of our state….he need to be removed in what ever way possible and if we have to wait till the election lets remember to do it then before he destroys our state

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