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Is there a way to maintain the health of our waters? Yes — but only if we demand it.

The Charlotte County Commission, especially Commissioner Bill Truex, put together and delivered an impressive Water Quality Summit Jan. 29. He brought in District 56 senator Ben Albritton and our local state representative J. W. Grant to speak and answer his and then the audience’s questions. We had a dozen staff and other experts from varied pertinent fields to help us all gain a better understanding of our challenges, problems and hopeful solutions.

To assemble 500 working individuals on a weekday afternoon is an impressive accomplishment. It goes to show the intense local interest in our water quality issues. Most sat out the entire four long hours, gaining knowledge. We had a few hecklers, but I got the impression most were there to learn.

Of crucial importance to me is that both elected officials made it crystal clear water quality is a priority issue in the state Senate and House. They are listening and learning. Both are seeking funds to address these problems.

I can assure all our readers that last year’s harmful algae blooms devastated our state’s income from water-related sources. They have crippled Southwest Florida’s beach incomes, and that must be showing up in lost sales tax revenue. The impact on the government’s income gets their attention quickly! Unlike the feds, state governments can’t spend money they don’t have.

Our new governor is putting our water and Everglades out front and fighting for our survival. He seems to get that if we don’t save our water quality, it will continue to impact our economy and tourism. Let’s see how he and legislators balance all the pieces to manage our challenges, and how we can steer them to address the problems. Some seem to desire face time more than identifying sources and addressing them. Our future depends upon working together and leaving the egos at the door. We need a sustainable balance if we’re to recover and thrive.

Everyone acknowledged sewage and septic tank problems. The Charlotte County Health Dept. says we have 56,000 septic systems in the county now.

So far, I’m not aware of any Charlotte County raw sewage spills or overflows, but Sarasota, Venice and St. Petersburg have them every time we have a big rain event. We also need to address the pharmaceuticals and other chemicals not removed by sewage treatment as well. Several speakers addressed sewage treatment challenges. Florida has not set standards for water toxins. It’s overdue.

We must address gray water issues too. These partially treated waters have not had the nutrients removed; just human waste! Gray water is fine for agriculture or lawns, but only if we don’t allow it into runoff. This reuse can save precious drinking water also.

Speaker Don Rainey from UF Agriculture pointed out the value of native and xeriscape landscaping to reduce water wastes and nutrient escape. We also must be extremely careful with fertilizers and chemicals we use. Even our lawn clipping blow into runoffs or waterways increase nutrients adding pollution. He emphasized the function of retention holding areas to help clean our runoff. What’s more important to us, green grass or healthy waters? It may not be possible to have both.

Some scientists don’t find support for the blue-green algae feeding red tide blooms. They say dead decaying fish are more likely contributors. With so many different ideas and considerations, it was encouraging to me that most are on similar thinking paths. Blue-green algae is easier to kill but has serious toxin challenges to consider. Avoid contact with blue-green algae.

One thing I found odd: No one discussed the rain events like hurricanes that seem to me to precede major HABs.

Betty Staugler, our Florida Sea Grant agent, wrapped it up sharing plenty of knowledge. She even offered up one simple idea on how to help polish our water: A project to raise and release local clams. The program would help filter nutrients from local waters. It would also stimulate and enhance essential attached sea grass growth.

She also pointed out the recent column by WaterLine publisher Josh Olive about oysters — how abundant they used to be and how scarce they are now. Bivalves filter water, reducing both nutrients and turbidity. Betty monitors some oyster bed projects in the Peace River off Punta Gorda.

It’s my understanding that current grants require recipients to work collectively, sharing information as part of their agreements. I hope this is true. We must have common use of studies we are funding. Let’s be sure we hold any grant recipients accountable to us. We have already invested millions and seem to have gotten nothing conclusive in return.

It gives me hope that our leaders are taking HABs seriously, but we need to see results and not answers that go in circles. Our future depends upon these problems being resolved. Help maintain the pressure to reduce nutrient input and stop feeding harmful algae.

If you missed the summit, you can view the presentations at http://bit.ly/2HTrNRV.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

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