CREATED Aug. 13, 2013
FORT MYERS, Fla.- Local scientists fear conditions are ripe for massive algae blooms, decimated commercial fishing and a seemingly never ending supply of dark water to taint our pristine beaches -- all from the releases from Lake Okeechobee.
Scientists and environmental advocates are looking at all the data and they see an ecosystem that could soon be on life support.
Mary Rawl from the Caloosa Nature Center says that "basically, were predicting environmental disaster like we've seen before but on an even larger magnitude in 2004-2005."
The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation says the numbers don't look good.
Their observation: "high flows sustained over the last 50 consecutive days have caused mortality of marine organisms and seagrass habitat."
Rawl adds "let me just tell you this is not fresh perrier water. its full of toxins, pollutants, animal wastes."
With tourism a three billion dollar industry in lee county and commercial fishing not far behind state representative Heather Fitzenhagen has a plan to help.
Fitzenhagen said "I have a petition that I'm going to be disseminating to anyone that would like one in southwest florida so we can demonstrate how much support we have for creating a plan to handle this problem."
Fitzenhagen believes the rest of the state legislature needs to know how much the Lake Okeechobee water releases are hurting our local economy and ecosystem.
She points out that "if people understand how passionate we are with addressing this problem.. then we'll be able to get something done."
Fitzenhagen says she has put together a team to start reviewing options, and then wants to build a consensus to turn whatever that plan is and put it into action.
But a number of environmentalists say there is only one real plan...give up the sugar fields and re-direct the water back into the everglades agriculture area , which is south of the lake, before its too late.
Rawl says "we wonder why our woodstorkes have disappeared from Florida, we wonder why the roseated spoonbill has disappeared from Florida. We know why. it has to do with water quality - were affecting the whole food chain."
In the meantime... the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation says water , coming out of Lake Okeechobee is pouring into the river three and half times the acceptable rate to maintain the delicate balance between fresh and salt water.