There's an ecological problem, and it's severe. It eventually will impact property values along the water.
Steve Shimp
Past President, Owens Ames Kimball
Commercial developer
Steve Shimp


Steve Shimp 2

Steve Shimp
Past President, Owen-Ames-Kimball
Commercial developer

Normally after Steve Shimp's boat sits in the water for six weeks, he has to scrape off barnacles from the bottom. Now he's scraping off slime. Nothing is growing in the Caloosahatchee River where he lives.

He says the algae, over-nutrient situation seems to have stabilized at a very disturbing level, with no improvement in sight. Moored boats grow slime on the sun-side of the hull while the shade side remains "clean." Simply put: sun plus nutrients in the water equal algae bloom. And, with the absence of considerable tidal flow, barnacles no longer thrive. As a nutrient filter, they've been overwhelmed.

In the past, Steve has seen multiple algae blooms of bright green floating on top of the river at times of high water discharge from Lake Okeechobee. He acknowledges that the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) seems to have been successful in bringing some measure of reason to discharges from the Lake.

"Those of us on the river see the surges come and go, but we do not see the prolonged dumping," he says. "It's now harder to measure the discharges' impact, however, since the grass beds that used to be here are all gone."

It's impacted the marine life. Normally, he sees the porpoises chase the mullet; but now he sees few porpoises upriver, and fewer mullet. His son, an avid fisherman, has stopped fishing up river. Yet, when he's boating, Steve sees areas out of the river flow as normal. The difference to him is blatant.

He should know. Steve has lived on the water for more than 10 years and has boated on the Caloosahatchee River for nearly 20. He sees many alarming changes, one of which is the manatees. The loss of grasses has forced them to travel farther for food, and he says more and more manatees are dying from exposure as they have to range more to find grass.

This is just one example of the trickle-down effect he sees taking shape. And every little piece hurts. Everyone knows people who are being impacted by the changes. He points to the backwater charter fishing business that has less area in which to work. This, in turn, impacts hotels that typically house fishermen.

One encouraging change he cites is Lee County's implementation of fertilizer blackout periods and distance-from-water rules. Unfortunately this has not been adopted by all municipalities.

On the broader scheme, macro progress is agonizingly slow. Construction of the state and federally funded Everglades clean-up is being under-funded by the federal government and, thus, is not on schedule; and the state has diverted significant funds from the SFWMD.

"Overall, it's discouraging," he says. "I'm fortunate because I have the time to go offshore and further south for longer trips into clean water. I keep hoping we return to more grass, more baitfish pods and clean water; but I sure don't see it in the short term."

Yet, despite the dire consequences he sees all around him and the too-slow pace of recovery efforts, Steve believes there's an answer. He knows it will take teamwork, persistence and dedication to make environmentally sound changes.

"We have a shot, no doubt. Mother nature is very forgiving."

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Stories From Your Neighbors

One way to truly understand the impact that freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on Lee County is to hear your neighbors’ experiences. Those who live on or near the Caloosahatchee River are really seeing the effects first-hand. Here are their stories.

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Related Links

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:
http://www.sfrestore.org

South Florida Water Management District:
http://www.sfwmd.gov

More Links

Glossary

Phosphorus [P]:
An element or nutrient required for energy production in living organisms; distributed into the environment mostly as phosphates by agricultural runoff and life cycles; frequently the limiting factor for growth of microbes and plants.

Blue-Green Algae:
A type of algae natural to our area that blooms in the climatic and nutrient conditions it finds favorable.

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