Water. The underpinning of life and certainly our life in Southwest Florida and throughout the State. Collier County is world-renowned for our beaches and the recreational opportunities that clean water provides. Clean water is essential for our quality of life.
We are facing the costs of overdevelopment and aging infrastructure. Collier County is a growing community with a strong tourist economy. We must properly manage our water resources. And there is no room for complacency. According to recent Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce data the top concern of folks who are returning to Naples to spend time in their winter home or visiting as a tourist is whether or not red tide is on our beaches.
Collier County is a major supplier of vegetables to the United States during the winter months. Our farmers need water for irrigation and our gardens need water to flower and bloom. Increased growth has put pressure on our water supply. Our once vast areas of farmlands in the east are being transformed into suburbs, reducing the recharge ability of the farmland fields. The largest old cypress forest in the United States, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and a great environmental treasure of Audubon, is experiencing a significant reduction of water flow into the swamp. The purpose of digging canals is to drain the land of water, usually for development, but in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s experience, those same canals preparing land for development may also be draining Corkscrew. Scientific studies are ongoing. The survival of this swamp is at stake.
Every county shares its water with the neighboring county. Local and regional management of water is critical to ensure an abundant supply of clean, fresh water for today and generations to come.
I was appointed to the County Coalition for the Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee by the Board of Commissioners. The occurrence of red tide in our coastline water has been directly linked to water releases down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee. Under my leadership and with the unanimous support of the Board of Commissioners, Collier has joined Lee and Charlotte counties insisting on an equitable distribution of Lake Okeechobee water releases. And I am pleased to say, the Army Corps of Engineers (the manager of water releases from Lake Okeechobee) has listened to us and their recently developed management plan addresses our concerns.
I also represent Collier County on the Water Committee of the Florida Association of Counties. I continue to be a strong advocate of establishing a recurring source of state revenue to help Collier and all Florida counties in their septic to sewer conversion. This policy that I introduced to the Water Committee has been adopted by county leaders to present to the 2022 Florida Legislative session.Our voices must be heard in Tallahassee to persuade our lawmakers to create a recurring revenue source for water issues and to substantially increase Florida’s water budget.
Collier County has developed the “Sustainable Integrated Water Resource Management Strategy,” a 50-year plan laying the foundation for the Water-Sewer District Master Plan currently under development. The Strategy calls for net-zero water footprint (conserving the water we use through reclaiming that same water.) Collier County is proactively planning for the future.
In 2020, the County invested $60 million to address the long-standing storm-water issues facing Collier. Hurricane Irma taught us the importance of managing storm water on a continuous basis. Now we are. The improvement of the storm water ditch along Goodlette Road south of Pine Ridge is a recent example of correcting an “early” engineered storm-water conveyance system that would never be permitted today. But homes and neighborhoods were built using that same storm water conveyance, and therefore the county will continue to monitor and support this system, adding water-quality features to minimize pollution to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gordon River.
We must unite. We have the right to clean water for our health, our future and the future of Florida.