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Call to action: Brockovich rallies crowd for clean water

October 4, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich rallied a crowd of hundreds gathered in Fort Myers Wednesday to hear her views on the water quality issues that have plagued the Sunshine State for months.

The power to clean up the problem is in your hands, she told those gathered at the historic Burroughs Home on the algae-plagued Caloosahatchee, urging those in attendance to call their local policy makers, call their local health departments, show up at local council meetings - and don't stop until your voice is heard.

"Speak up!" she told the crowd, gathered from across the state. "Be a disrupter. Some people think that's a bad thing, but it's not. It wakes people up. Make those phone calls.

Article Photos

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich gives her thoughts and answers questions at a water quality panel discussion in Fort Myers Wednesday.


"What I don't want you to do is to sit here and wait for them to come and tell you. I want you to start sending them the message. They need to hear from you. If you are having health problems, call the health department. Call them again, not one of you, not 10 of you, not 20 of you, but 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 of you. I don't care if they get stressed out. I don't care if their phone is ringing off the hook. Call them, call them, call them, call them, call them, until they respond. They want to make it their job to ignore you, make it your job that they hear you."

The extent of the problem throughout South Florida astounded her, Bockovich told the few hundred in attendance, on what she saw during her time in Florida this week.

"I was taken aback," Bockovich said bluntly.

Brockovich traveled from Satellite Beach, to Lake Okeechobee and then toured the Caloosahatchee to better understand why these red tide and algal blooms have wreaked havoc on Florida's ecosystem-as well as economy.

"I'm here for you. I'm here for the environment. And I'm here to protect water at every level...water is life," Brockovich said in the session held under the pavilion overlooking the river.

She was joined by a panel of local water quality experts-John Cassani from Calusa Waterkeeper, Captain Daniel Andrews from Captains for Clean Water and Natural Resource Policy Director for The Sanibel-Captive Conservation Foundation, Rae Ann Wessel.

Brockovich revealed that she had no idea how important Lake Okeechobee is to the Everglades and the ecosystem, something residents here may also not realize.

Becoming educated on the matter is the first step, as the panel did its collective best to pass along their knowledge to the crowd.

Brockovich's associate, and "water guy," Bob Bowcock, took the audience through what the pair saw during their time visiting numerous affected areas.

"It starts from the local, to regional, to state and up to the federal level," he said of why these issues have come about. "Everyone is contributing (to the problem), some more than others."

The issue, said Bowcock, starts north of Lake Okeechobee, at the Kissimmee River, and that water now moves down from the Kissimmee, to Lake O, to the Caloosahatchee, in nearly a day's time - where as before government entities messed with the natural flow- water took months to move through each system, allowing for natural cleansing.

"This is a very unique ecosystem," Bowcock said.

The water is picking up nutrients along its way through these rivers, lakes and watersheds from agriculture, sewer and septic lines, he said.

Add runoff from housing and places like golf courses at the local level, and it exacerbates the issue.

Chamber of Commerce presidents John Lai of Sanibel/Captiva and Jacki Liszak of Fort Myers Beach, shared their points of view from two of the worst red tide affected areas.

"I'm incredibly appreciative that she took time out of her schedule to come down, to really look around - to not only see one area, but to try and see a lot of the areas of Florida that are affected," said Liszak. "I'm incredibly appreciative that she's here today to listen to not only the business community, but also to the residents and the people suffering.

"We live here, but we need to let everybody else know in other states what our problem is, because while we live here, it's their playground. We need them to help protect their playground. We want to provide a great experience for people coming to see us, so, we definitely need other states to get involved and we need our northern Florida residents and our west coasters and central to get involved as well. It is all one problem, and it is complicated."

All members of the panel had their time to voice their concerns about the water, providing their expertise to the people.

"We're crossing the tipping point, and may never get it back. So much is at stake," said Cassani.

"The decisions we make today will affect our future generations, and we need more people involved in this movement in exponential numbers," said Andrews.

"It's important to know where your information is coming from. Facts matter," said Wessel. "We need standard protocols for health risks. If we get out of Mother Nature's way, she knows how to fix it."

Some of the attendees felt the panel brought great information to light, and that they are hopeful for the future of Florida's water.

"I think she (Brockovich) really made it clear that it's not a problem that she's going to solve for us. It is a problem that we have to take responsibility for. We have to motivate the people to change. It really is all about change," said Janice Ippolito, a Cape Haze resident. "I'm hopeful in November that there's a whole new ticket of people, and we reinstate some of the regulations that keep our water clean."

"I think that Erin coming here helped fire up the community to become more active and to do something with purpose, rather then just banter around on Facebook," said Crystal Evans, a Port Charlotte resident. "She has spurred me on to do more action, and to join these groups, and to become vocal and to become a physical entity at these meetings, to contact my politicians - who have done a very poor job of saving my state. I do hope that something happens, so that the life that was here, comes back once again, and we continue to want to live in Florida, which has been my home."

Brockovich, along with the panel, took as many questions from the crowd as they could following their words to the public.

A long line formed behind the podium, with many wanting to voice their opinion, outrage, health concerns and discouragement in state and local leaders.

Due to time constraints, she was not able to get to every question answered.

Liszak is confident that Brockovich will continue to stand by Florida and fight on behalf of the people.

"I think she'll advocate for us, absolutely," Liszak said. "I think as she learns more, and hears more stories, she'll continue to advocate for us. Be she was spot-on saying that it's everyone's responsibility. You may think that your one phone call doesn't make a difference, but it does. You may think that your one email doesn't make a difference, but it does. Because a river is made of a lot of drops of water - and that's what we're fighting for."

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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