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Natural resource policy update from SCCF
October 8, 2019

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The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation was honored to host U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Andrew Kelly, Lt. Jennifer Reynolds and her incoming replacement Lt. Todd Polk on Aug. 20 on a daylong tour and series of meetings with west coast stakeholders.

Starting with a boat tour of the middle and upper estuary on the R/V Norma Campbell, they were able to see the geography and natural tributaries of the Caloosahatchee and the changes that influence water flow and deliveries to better understand the impact of water management decisions. We visited a RECON sensor site, along with a number of physical features of the upper estuary ending at the W.P. Franklin Lock & Dam.

On Sanibel, the city, SCCF and J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge staff and "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge volunteers had a chance to discuss our unique geography and issues. Meetings with the county, local cities and nonprofit groups rounded out the day.

All three attended the Save Our Water Forum the next day, providing a great opportunity to further network with concerned residents, with a fresh perspective and knowledge of our river.

SAVE OUR WATERS FORUM

A sold out crowd of over 600 attended the third and largest Save Our Water Forum in August. The newly-formed Alliance of Chambers urged the event coordinators to offer a third forum on this issue of broad community interest and sweetened the pot by offering to co-host.

This best-yet forum effectively brought together the science, policy and solutions into a half-day event. Featured speakers included the governor, secretary of the DEP, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, a SFWMD governing board member and legislative leaders. Presentations and panel discussions opened with some basic science about the biology and nature of algal blooms, addressed the past and upcoming legislative sessions, public health issues, the role of agriculture, water policy opportunities, greater Everglades restoration projects, emerging technologies and innovative approaches to algae treatment and what each of us can do to reduce our impact on local waterways.

Takeaways from the event include the need for clearly designated agency responsibility for posting warning notices when blooms occur, the need for state legislation to address sources of pollution, elevating the method of monitoring and improving agricultural water quality and improved oversight and enforcement.

CHAMBER POWER HOUR

The Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce has been a leader in engaging businesses in water quality issues. The chamber's board of directors, working with the Government Affairs Committee, established a set of priorities for the coming legislative session that were the focal point of the presentations at the sold-out event in August.

The priorities are:

- Support the long-term reauthorization and increased funding of Visit Florida.

- Support developing policy to effectively deal with storm water and wastewater pollution sources.

- Support sustained funding to accomplish the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) projects and objective of sending clean water South as quickly as possible and implementation of critical infrastructure projects north and south of Lake Okeechobee.

Dana Young, president and chief executive officer of Visit Florida, was invited to speak to the chamber priority of supporting the long-term reauthorization and increased funding of Visit Florida. She shared insights and statistics about the impact of the agency, citing a return on investment of $2.15 for every dollar invested in promoting Florida. She indicated that visitors contribute $85 billion dollars per year, which translates to a tax savings of $1,500 per Florida resident.

I addressed the chamber's water quality priorities, encouraging members to create a Stop Pollution Revolution by advocating for policies and legislation to: prevent pollution at its source; protect and restore our water resources; and protect public health. Targets for this year's session include bringing back and passing a septic inspection and maintenance bill, prioritizing advanced wastewater treatment, regulate biosolids and revive the statewide storm water bill. Working broadly across industries including the League of Mayors and Cities, we are looking for legislative champions to sponsor and carry these bills.

An unexpected bonus was state Rep. Byron Daniels (R- District 80), representing Hendry County and part of Collier County, who was in the audience and volunteered to take a few questions.

Rae Ann Wessel is the natural resources policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. For more information about the SCCF, visit www.sccf.org.

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