Judah addresses Matlacha Civic Association
Clean water was the topic at the Matlacha Civic Association’s monthly meeting last week. Ray Judah, former Lee County Commissioner and former coordinator of Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, made a presentation about the “Sate of Florida/Lee County Waters.”
“Ray Judah is a champion for healthy fisheries and clean water and a long-time friend to Matlacha and Pine Island,” Matlacha Civic Association director Nancy Hindenbach said in introducing the speaker. “Ray also served as our County Commissioner.”
Judah opened his presentation by addressing the Seven Islands project proposal in Cape Coral.
“Before we get into the Everglades and the estuaries, I want to say that the Seven Islands development Cape Coral plans to build is a horror story,” Judah said. “Those seven islands just west of Burnt Store Road are right on the spreader canal. One has to wonder whether removing the boat lift wasn’t part of the plan to allow larger boats and larger homes on the spreader swale.
“The effects on our estuaries from the Cape runoff has, as you know, been catastrophic to the water in the estuaries,” Judah said. “You, as citizens, should take a stand against that type of development. That’s what 20/20 is supposed to be used for. In fact, the very first line describing Conservation 20/20 is, ‘Conservation 20/20 is an environmentally-sensitive land acquisition and stewardship program in Lee County. This program preserves and protects environmentally critical land in Lee County for the benefit of present and future generations in Southwest Florida.’ This Seven Islands land is perfect for Conservation 20/20 funds.”
Judah then moved onto water quality issues for the are and state.
“The major concern with our estuaries is we either get too much fresh water, heavily laden with pollutants like insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers,” Judah said. “In the lands south of Lake Okeechobee, there are 700,000 acres of Everglades Agricultural area, 440,000 acres are sugar cane fields and south of that is 950,000 acres of Water Conservation area before you get to the Everglades.”
Nature never connected Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie rivers.
“Before these were connected, when the lake would overflow, it would drain down to the Everglades,” Judah said. “After Castro took over Cuba there was an interest in creating sugar cane fields in the Everglades Agricultural area. Those sugar cane field actually severed the connection between the lake and the Everglades. Approximately 45 percent of the water is discharged to the west and 25 percent is discharged to the east with the remainder, about 30 percent, going to the Everglades Agricultural area.”
Judah said that the state must find a way to stop the excessive releases to the estuaries and provide more water to the Everglades. That could be accomplished by purchasing land south of the lake.
“But Gov. Scott and the Legislature are against it,” Judah said. “We could even use Amendment 1 money to do this.”
In November 2014 the Florida legislature passed Amendment 1, a measure that designates billions of dollars for conservation over the next 20 years.
“But in order to get this done, you need to become politically engaged,” Judah said. “You need to be a registered voter and get your neighbors and your family and fiends to vote. Special Interests, sugar, has a stranglehold on our Legislature. Ray Rodriguez was the sponsor for the fracking bill which would have absolutely contaminated our most precious aquifer. Voters shouldn’t vote along party lines – they should vote for the candidate that supports clean water.
“On a local level ‘we the people’ need to get involved,” Judah said, “either with phone calls, emails or petitions we can change this. Contact your County Commissioner, your legislators, and even the governor.”