Commentary by Don Browne
LABELLE, FLORIDA -- Controversy has been stirring the political waters
surrounding the Caloosahatchee River in Hendry and Glades county in recent
months. Enviromental groups and southwestern Florida local governments have
been voicing loud complaints about the quality of fresh water flowing from
canals in Hendry and Glades county into the river, which flows slowly
westward into the Gulf of Mexico, passing locks at Ortona and Alva. At the
receiving end of the complaints are the large agricultural interests in the
inland counties, primarily U.S. Sugar Corp, whose extensive sugarcane lands
drain ultimately into canals that in many cases flow to the Caloosahatchee
River and then to the Gulf.
Inland county governments have felt pressure to defend themselves and their
constituency over what they see as a large legal battle looming in the near
future. Hendry County's commissioners recently voted to approve a
committment to legal fees for any possible litigation. A legal battle
between the gulf counties and the inland counties would mean a huge amount
of revenue for law firms and engineering consultants. The consultants and
lawyers are lining up for the fight to come.
The American Rivers organization has published since 1986 an annual report
of what they call America's Endangered Rivers, this year due out on
Wednesday, April 19. American Rivers and "dozens of partners in the river
movement have released the America's Most Endangered Rivers report to
spotlight those rivers across the country facing critical and near-term
threats." they say. The report is not a list of the nation's "worst" or
most polluted rivers, but rather it highlights ten rivers confronted by
decisions in the coming year that could determine their future.
According to the organization, "Recognizing that the threats facing the
listed rivers are seldom unique, each report includes a special chapter that
explores a broader issue suggested by the rivers on the list that year. In
recent years, we have examined the consequences to rivers of energy
development, sewage pollution and overdevelopment." The group says "This
report is more than a warning: it offers solutions and identifies those who
have the power to save the river. "
American Rivers says it "solicits nominations from hundreds of river groups,
conservation organizations, outdoor enthusiasts, and concerned citizens. Our
staff and scientific advisors review the nominations for the following
criteria: the magnitude of the threat to the river, a major decision point
in the coming year, and
the regional and national significance of the river." One victory claimed
from last years list was the Susquehanna River. They say "On the day in
2005 we named this river the most endangered in the country, Maryland backed
away from weakening water quality standards. Governor Ehrlich and the
Maryland Department of the Environment dropped plans to designate the river
as a "limited use" river, which would have excused public officials from any
kind of river restoration projects.
We suspect that because of the growing amount of public comment and
controversy over our local Caloosahatchee River and the problems west coast
governments are perceiving about Gulf water quality, this southwest Florida
river system may well be mentioned in this week's Endangered River report.