2006 Most Endangered River #7 -- CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER


* In the 1800s a canal was constructed connecting the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee, and the river was channelized removing its many oxbows, in order to make it navigable and to keep Lake Okeechobee from flooding its southern perimeter.

* Releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the river totaled approximately 855 billion gallons in 2005; thatís 44% of the total Lake Okeechobee discharge volume from 1996 to 2005.

* A South Florida Water Management District study found that from 1993 to 2003 Lake Okeechobee was responsible for nearly 40% of the nutrient input the Caloosahatchee River received. This number may have been even higher in the very wet 2004 and 2005 years.

* The other 60% of the nutrients the Caloosahatchee receives comes from its own watershed where urban and agricultural runoff and inputs from densely developed areas dependent on septic systems. Stormwater from these areas also represents a significant source of pollution for the river.

* The Lake Okeechobee water releases contain high levels of nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorous, that contribute to algae blooms. The discharges also contain high levels of sediments that can smother sea grass beds.

* Intense algal blooms have severely depleted oxygen levels in the Caloosahatchee, resulting in the decimation of the river's commercial seafood species.

* Since 2000, there have been 570 days of algae influence on the river documented by a Lee County water plant. The blue-green algae was found to be toxic and public health officials have issued orders prohibiting swimming in the river where there is an algae bloom.

* According to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida's 2005 Estuaries Report Card for Southwest Florida, 30% of the Caloosahatchee River watershed is impaired for nutrients, and 25% is impaired for coliform bacteria, indicating residential and agricultural impacts from fertilizer and human waste treatment systems. (To see the full report, go to www.conservancy.org.)

* The 2005 Estuaries Report Card for Southwest Florida notes that 40% of wetlands in the Caloosahatchee watershed remain, and of those only 7% are in public conservation.

* For more than 40 years, untreated stormwater runoff has drained into Lake Okeechobee from surrounding dairy farms and agricultural fields. Urban sprawl throughout the watershed has aggravated the problem of polluted runoff into the lake.

* More than 10,000 acres in Southwest Florida are at risk of being permanently destroyed by the massive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. (This oneís unclear, 10,000 acres of what? And how?)

* Hundreds of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico are also impacted by the freshwater plume emanating from the Caloosahatchee River.

* Five National Wildlife Refuges depend on the Caloosahatchee River for water, including: J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Island Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, and Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge. Many are showing signs of impaired ecosystems as a result of the polluted waters of the Caloosahatchee.

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