GUEST ED­I­TO­RIAL

Times of the Islands - - News -

We are in the midst of a wa­ter qual­ity cri­sis in south Florida, one that has been more than a cen­tury in the mak­ing. Con­sid­er­ing how im­por­tant this is­sue is to our com­mu­nity, I am grate­ful to TOTI Me­dia for the op­por­tu­nity to voice my con­cerns and stress how im­por­tant an is­sue this is to me—and top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Our com­mu­ni­ties have all played a role in trans­form­ing our state’s once di­verse land­scape of up­land forests, wet­land marshes, sloughs, and me­an­der­ing rivers into a ditched and drained sys­tem ripe for agri­cul­ture and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. The wa­ter qual­ity is­sues im­pact­ing our com­mu­ni­ties to­day are the re­sult of long-term pol­icy de­ci­sions― pri­or­i­tiz­ing ur­ban and agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment over the pro­tec­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. Our com­mu­ni­ties have the power to change the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, but it will take all of us work­ing to­gether to achieve this lofty goal.

As pres­i­dent-elect of the Florida League of May­ors, I will con­tinue work­ing closely with may­ors through­out the state to­ward that goal. There­fore I com­mend our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties for com­ing to­gether dur­ing these try­ing times with one voice to con­front our wa­ter is­sues. The may­ors of Lee County, work­ing in part­ner­ship with Lee County and the State of Florida, suc­cess­fully se­cured fund­ing for sev­eral im­por­tant projects in­clud­ing red tide cleanup—re­mov­ing hun­dreds of tons of dead sea life from our beaches and wa­ter­ways, blue-green al­gae re­moval and re­search, and in­stal­la­tion of six ad­di­tional flow mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions within the Caloosa­hatchee River. These achieve­ments are a step in the right di­rec­tion, but more must be done. There is no ques­tion that we need to do ad­di­tional work in our own back­yards to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

How­ever, our is­sues within the Caloosa­hatchee River (and the St. Lu­cie River on Florida’s east coast) are much more com­plex than those pre­sented in other re­gions of the state. Our is­sues stem from large-scale land use changes in cen­tral and south Florida that be­gan in the late 1800s—with the first canal dug con­nect­ing Lake Okee­chobee to the Caloosa­hatchee—and con­tin­ues to­day with un­bal­anced wa­ter man­age­ment poli­cies that deliver too much wa­ter to our es­tu­ary dur­ing the wet sea­son and not enough dur­ing the dry sea­son.

Al­gae blooms, fish kills, and harm­ful bac­te­ria lev­els along our beaches are just symp­toms of a larger prob­lem stem­ming from decades of wa­ter man­age­ment de­ci­sions, which fa­vor spe­cial in­ter­ests over pub­lic in­ter­ests. Florida is on the verge of killing its golden goose. Tourism is our state’s No. 1 eco­nomic driver, gen­er­at­ing $11.6 bil­lion in state and lo­cal tax rev­enue, em­ploy­ing more than 1.4 mil­lion Florid­i­ans, and gen­er­at­ing more than $111.7 bil­lion in di­rect eco­nomic im­pact (Visit Florida 2016). Much of Florida’s tourism ap­peal is at­trib­uted to its more than 700 miles of white sandy beaches, azure wa­ters, crys­tal-clear springs, and world-class fish­eries. Cur­rent wa­ter man­age­ment and wa­ter qual­ity poli­cies threaten the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of tourism in our state. To avert a fu­ture eco­nomic dis­as­ter, we must get se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing and im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity. Wa­ter man­age­ment poli­cies must be over­hauled to rec­og­nize the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of tourism.

I ap­plaud the Florida League of May­ors for mak­ing our wa­ter re­source is­sues a top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity. I look for­ward to work­ing with our lo­cal, state, and fed­eral elected lead­ers to im­ple­ment poli­cies and projects that will solve our is­sues once and for all. The time for talk is over, the time for ac­tion is now!

Kevin Ruane Kevin Ruane Mayor of the City of Sani­bel

Kevin Ruane is mayor of the City of Sani­bel, pres­i­dent-elect of the Florida League of May­ors, and a lo­cal busi­ness owner. He has served as the mayor of the City of Sani­bel since 2010 and has been a mem­ber of Sani­bel City Coun­cil since 2007. He was the re­cip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Ever­glades Coali­tion James D. Webb pub­lic ser­vice award in 2016 and in 2017 was awarded the Florida League of Cities Home Rule Hero award for his ad­vo­cacy ef­forts on wa­ter qual­ity and home rule.

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