On Wednesday morning, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a meeting at the South Florida Water Management District’s Fort Myers office where they discussed the progress that’s been made over the last year on their Best Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the Caloosahatchee Estuary.
“The Caloosahatchee Estuary has been stressed over time by the influx of nutrient pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, through stormwater and wastewater as well as by excessive freshwater discharges,” said Sara Davis, Environmental Consultant for the DEP. “The department’s restoration plans are intended to remove or reduce the sources of nutrient pollution, which can have a negative impact on the health of the water body. Department and local government representatives will discuss the progress report for this basin and review activities implemented during the last year of restoration.”
The Caloosahatchee BMAP is one in a series of BMAPs that the DEP is working on, including one for the Everglades West Coast Basin and another for Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs. According to their website, BMAP’s “are the “blueprint” for restoring impaired waters by reducing pollutant loadings to meet the allowable loadings established in a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). It represents a comprehensive set of strategies–permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural best management practices, conservation programs, financial assistance and revenue generating activities, etc. – designed to implement the pollutant reductions established by the TMDL.”
The Caloosatchee’s BMAP was created in 2012, with the DEP giving a yearly report each year on it’s progress. It includes the river from Franklin Lock (S-79) to Shell Point, with Pine Island Sound to the northwest and Estero Bay to the southeast.
“One thing that we’ve looked at going forward is seeing how all these separate entities – the City of Cape Coral, Charlotte County, the East County Water Control District, the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Florida Department of Transportation, the city of Fort Myers, Lee County and the Lucaya Community Development District – have done with their reductions,” said Sara. “For instance, Agriculture is now down 198,000 pounds per year and Cape Coral has been successful in their septic to sewer transition.”
Davis outlined some of the other projects that have been completed over the past year: Lee County has posted “fertilize smart” billboards and done vegetation harvesting in five preserves; Lehigh Acres has distributed 2,500 public education cards, hosted seven community events and a school event; FDOT has worked on illicit discharge detection and elimination; the C-43 Reservoir got started – including work on a water quality treatment testing facility; a tape grass restoration study has begun; the land acquisition and survey is complete for the Lake Hicpochee Hydrologic Enhancement project and 18,000 acres of agricultural land has been enrolled in the BMAP.
Richard Thompson from the City of Fort Myers talked about the Ford Creek project recently completed by his city.
“This is 3rd project that Fort Myers has done – the first two being Billy Creek and the Fort Myers Country Club,” he said. “The majority of this was completed in October of 2015. It serves 811 acres of commercial/residential. It was a wetland area when we started – which made it easier – but we still had to remove exotic vegetation and add native vegetation. This is designed to provide water quality without risking flood. We also have educational signs around the boardwalk identifying various plants.”
Finally, Davis explained that – for 2016 – the DEP plans to update its models and extend the area of the watershed to Lake Okeechobee.
“In the past year, new legislation from Tallahassee has affected all our BMAPs – there needs to be a lot more integration of reporting with the South Florida Water Management District, we need to report to the state Legislature, we need 5-year milestones for the northern Everglades BMAP and we need to show how we can meet our TMDL within 20 years,” she said. “We’ve already got 18 projects signed up for the coming year that range from treating 14.5 acres to 35,000.”
Davis said that the complete report for 2016 should be online at the DEP’s website – http://www.dep.state.fl.us – no later than next week.
Keri Hendry Weeg