Captains For Clean Water sits down with the Boca Beacon about Everglades restoration, USACE and clean water

August 27, 2021
By T Michele Walker

With record-breaking deaths of the manatee, red tide, Piney Point and the Lake Okeechobee debate, organizations like Captains for Clean Water are moving front and center. As citizens not only search for answers but for ways to make their voices heard, Captains for Clean Water seeks to give a voice to the general public.

“We started as very grassroots, focused on Everglades restoration solely,” said Alycia Downs, director of education & awareness at Captains for Clean Water. “We feel like we’re making great progress and now we have to keep our foot on the gas to make sure that those projects are executed, that those Everglades restoration projects keep happening as quickly as possible.”

 Captains for Clean Water is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that fights to restore and protect Florida’s water resources. CFCW started in 2016 when a couple of fishing guides, Captains Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman, “had enough” of Florida’s poor water management practices devastating the vital estuaries.

The captains were convinced that if everyone knew about the issues, they would’ve been fixed long ago. The solution is known but has been delayed for decades due to a lack of political will and public awareness. Captains for Clean Water set out to change that.

“I would say that Captains for Clean Water has come a long way in the past five years,” said Downs. “When we look at how CFCW started, it was to fight for Everglades restoration. We saw by spreading education and awareness and making the public aware of what we were doing, we were able to move the needle faster. Policymakers were listening and we were helping to create a platform for the general public.”

CFCW has three areas of focus as an organization.

The first on the list is Everglades restoration, the issue on which CFCW was founded.

“Everglades restoration,” explained Downs. “Sending more water south to the infrastructure that’s available, reducing the harmful discharges to the coast and getting that clean fresh water all the way down to Everglades and Florida Bay; that’s Everglades restoration and we aren’t going to take our foot off the gas with that.”

The second area of focus is Lake Okeechobee. “We have an opportunity as the public and businesses, citizens and stakeholders to effect this Lake Okeechobee Systems Operational Manual. It’s being written by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and so this operation component is something we’ve been heavily focused on since the LOSOM process began in 2018. That’s been coming into the home stretch right now, this operations manual, and what’s going to come out of this process will dictate how our water is managed for the next decade.”

The decisions made in creating this rulebook are what the USACE will base their decisions on for the next ten years. Decisions like where the water will flow and how much water will go where, when and why, will all be determined by this process. 

 The third area of focus for CFCW is nutrient pollution, a critical issue that affects every water body across the globe. In the state of Florida, we’re experiencing the result of nutrient conditions through the consequences of the red tide outbreak.

“The one thing that we know is that it’s going to take mass support from the public, to use their voices to speak up and to back state legislation to start making a difference with the nutrient pollution issue,” said Downs.

Downs is confident that the USACE will listen to the input from the public.

“We are very optimistic. I think Colonel Kelly said it best when he spoke to how the USACE handled this LOSOM process with transparency and collaboration with the stakeholders. They have asked the public to walk with them every step of the way and they’re genuinely wanting to have guidance.”

The USACE has asked for the public’s views and supporters have responded. “We sent over 12,000 emails now to the USACE from our supporters. Colonel Kelly acknowledged this and said that they have received every bit of it. He had to ask the IT team to up the storage on his phone, so he welcomed the feedback.”

The LOSOM plan has not been without controversy. While many politicians are speaking out against the plan chosen that discharges a majority of water down the Caloosahatchee River, CFCW seeks to work with the USACE.

Jessica Pinsky, Director of Policy, shares their perspective. “Captains for Clean Water was formed in 2016 by Capt. Dan and Capt. Chris because of high-volume toxic discharges to our coast. Our founders personally have felt the devastating effects of the toxic discharges on their livelihood and our local economy. Holding the Corps accountable for the best lake operation schedule we can get without causing unnecessary harm to other stakeholders has been Captain’s number one goal from the very beginning of this LOSOM process. Our interest is solely in looking out for the people, the fish, the critters and the overall health of the estuary.

“It’s been great to see the change in the state of Florida and the number of people that have gotten involved in these issues. Before, and as you probably know, it came from an environmental conversation. Now it’s not just about the environment, which is important, but it’s about our livelihoods. It’s about our health and our businesses. It’s the economy of Florida, the lifeblood of Florida, and so now it’s a household conversation, and we’re proud to say CFCW has been a part of that.”

It takes a mere 60 seconds to email the Army Corps about the new Lake Okeechobee management plan. Make your voice heard and give the Corps the criticism they’re looking for. You can help make sure that the next decade of Lake Okeechobee management doesn’t crush our estuaries with more toxic discharges and dirty water.

Take action: