PUNTA GORDA — A reservoir that a prominent biologist says may do little to help the Everglades is poised for federal funding, while Charlotte County’s septic-to-sewer projects got bumped off the list.

Greg Burns, a Washington lobbyist working for the county, presented the results of federal legislation to the Charlotte County Commission recently. Burns reassured the board that Florida’s U.S. legislators will work to get the county’s requested $16 million back in the federal program by 2020.

“They were not happy in the end,” he said of the Florida delegation in Washington. “We were closer this time.”

The reservoir project is expected to cost the state and federal government $1.6 billion.

Later that day, University of Miami Professor Larry Brand spoke on harmful algae to a Sierra Club chapter at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Of the new reservoir promised by federal legislators, Brand predicted that the project will not do much to reduce the cyanobacteria coming out of Lake Okeechobee in the rainy season.

The man-made marshes that go along will help a little, he said, but the pollutant nitrogen is difficult to remove. Brand was among the first scientists to sound the alarm on nitrogen pollution more than 10 years ago.

“It will become a little Lake Okeechobee,” he said of the reservoir.

Two types of toxic algae this summer, cyanobacteria and red tide, plagued almost the entire Southwest coast of Florida, making national news. The crisis for cyanobacteria in particular is tied to polluted water in Lake Okeechobee. National attention and a stalled tourist season prompted the acceleration of already planned Everglades projects, including the reservoir.

Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch challenged lobbyist Burns with the same message.

“Is the primary objective here to deal with the quantity of water?” he asked about the reservoirs. “Is it not important to deal with the quality of the water?”

Burns agreed with Deutsch the primary objective of the reservoir involves quantity more than quality.

“If we don’t do something about the water quality, we’re going to be building a reservoir that’s basically holding septic water,” Deutsch said. “And I can’t see how that’s good for Southwest Florida or anyone else.”

At the Sierra Club meeting, Brand described his research on land that was drained in the Everglades for agriculture decades ago. Draining the land exposed ancient peat that is now releasing nitrogen, which feeds algae, Brand’s research asserts. The land must be reflooded, he said. State efforts to buy this land from the sugar industry have been unsuccessful.

Commissioner Christopher Constance added criticism of industry and agriculture.

“If you’re taking water out of the system, you’ve got to put it back in cleaner than you took it out, or you don’t get a permit.”

A local environmental leader told the Sun that the federal legislative decision on the reservoirs is still good for Charlotte County and Florida.

Jennifer Hecker, executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuarine Program, said the Everglades restoration project must be funded. Charlotte County will receive septic-to-sewer funding from other sources, she said, including the legal settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


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