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Lawsuit to clean up Caloosahatchee RIver

Lawsuit to clean up Caloosahatchee RIver

By Liza Fernandez. CREATED Jul 23, 2012 - UPDATED: Jul 23, 2012

NAPLES, Fla. - A legal fight over the heart of Southwest Florida's landscape and economy ... our water.
An environmental group,  the Conservancy of Southwest Florida filed a lawsuit through the environmental law group Earthjustice to force the feds to keep the Caloosahatchee River clean.
"For many years, we and other conservationists have been asking the South Florida Water Management District, along with the Army Corps (of Engineers) to do a better job for the Caloosahatchee River," says Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine.
McElwaine adds, eight out of the past 11 years, the Caloosahatchee River has been plagued by outbreaks of blue green algae -- most notably during the 2004 hurricane season when the Army Corps of Engineers released too much nutrient-rich fresh water from Lake Okeechobee.
Now the Conservancy says we have the opposite is happening -- too little freshwater coming from the lake -- also causing algal blooms and fish kills.
"We expect a federal judge to compel the Army Corp to provide a reasonable amount of fresh water into that river so that the river will start to mimmick what it might have natural been had we not installed all these weirs and dams." explains McElwaine. 
The group's president says it's an environmental and economic argument: "...Fishing in the Caloosahatchee estuary was an economic driver, tourism along the barrier islands and along Fort myers beach.. those need to be protected."
But Southwest Florida is fighting Big Sugar's irrigation needs and the East Coast's drinking water needs.
The Conservancy says Southwest Florida often gets the short end of the stick.
"For years we have gotten little if any progress, few answers. Southwest Florida's had enough. We are tired of being the stepchild," says McElwaine. 
The Army Corp did not return our calls for comment.
However a spokesperson for Lee County says it is not a party to the lawsuit.
And although it agrees with the rationale, it's pursuing its own negotiation with the Army Corp and water managers.

Liza Fernandez

Liza Fernandez

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Liza Fernandez is a reporter and weekend forecaster for the 10 p.m. news.