Lee County Commissioner Ruane to head campaign to stop Lake O flow from coming this way

August 6, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

Lee County District 1 Commissioner Kevin Ruane is on a mission to make a difference regarding our water quality, and you can help him make it a reality by joining a campaign he has created to present a strong united front by Southwestern Floridians. He admits freely he doesn’t sleep much and is a bit of a workaholic, and perhaps that’s just the person we need in our fight against a barrage of Lake Okeechobee releases headed our way.

In case you hadn’t heard, in the last two weeks it came time for the Army Corps of Engineers’ to choose from five models for the next decade regarding releases from Lake Okeechobee. Ruane had known since May that of those five models there wasn’t a winning situation among them. 

When he found out the Corps had chosen a model they called “CC,” which releases a large majority of the Lake O water down the Caloosahatchee and into the Gulf of Mexico, he immediately acted by creating a campaign to let Southwest Florida residents and property owners that a bad decision regarding our water might be just around the corner.

Having a been a strong advocate for cleaner Florida water for more than 15 years and having been appointment by former Gov. Scott and current Gov. Ron DeSantis to represent our area in an “ecosystem task force,” Ruane said he realizes how vital clean water is to our coastal communities.

“Water is our economy and our way of living down here. Without clean water no one will buy property here, no one will want to visit here,” he said.

USACE announced their decision on July 19, and on July 26 Ruane called a meeting with stakeholders, including the Army Corps of Engineers, to discuss the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, otherwise known as LOSOM. Col. Andrew Kelly, project manager for Lake O, was in attendance, and Ruane expressed his frustration regarding the CC plan and its major drawbacks.

“Throughout discussions, we have not had a plan that represented balance for the Caloosahatchee,” Ruane said. “At first we considered Plan CC, but that was before we had any of the details of its impacts and operation.”

Ruane explained that while the Caloosahatchee River needs fresh water during the dry season to balance the salinity that builds up there, that’s because it was the USACE who hooked the river up to Lake O. It wasn’t that way originally, he said, so now we need fresh water to balance the excessive salinity in our estuaries. Ruane explained that while we would be getting more “fresh water” in the dry season, with the new plan we would get, as Ruane said we need changes to the high flow, as that’s what creates the algae and the red tide.

“I have zero faith that we won’t have another crisis,” he said.

Whatever plan the Corps finalizes next week will be kept in place for a decade. Ruane and others are not happy about them.

“We looked at all of these models back in May, and I told them they all stink,” he said. “If the choices are those five models, they all had major deficiencies from the get-go. This proves that the Corps is a government agency that doesn’t know how to think outside the box.”

Ruane explained that while many people who know a bit about outflow from Lake O think it’s a good idea to “send it south,” there are big problems with that solution. The natural overflow of the lake needs to be sent south in a perfect world, but it also needs to be cleaned.

Many years ago, a lawsuit was filed by First Nation people of Central Florida and environmental groups … a lawsuit they won. Of the stipulations in that suit one big one is that all water that follows the original natural flow must be cleaned by 10 parts per billion … which is cleaner than most drinking water. With pesticides, insecticides, sewage and other toxins – manmade and natural – flowing out of the Lake, that is a very expensive process, and one that is impossible to keep up with.

Ruane said while the State of Florida and the federal government started the Central Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000, the feds have fallen behind by millions of dollars in their part of the payment to make it so. But a budget that started out at $6 to $8 billion in the early 2000s is now stands at $18 billion and rising.

With that in mind Ruane created and put into motion a four-point strategy to reach the public in an attempt to let Col Kelly know how Southwest Floridians feel about his plan. Implementing mailings, radio ads, television commercials and digital media, he has done his best to reach as many people as he can to get the word out … that word being, if we don’t act now and lend our voices, we will be in dire straits for at least the next 10 years.

Ruane’s website, kevinruane.com, is getting more and more attention every day. The first thing you see on the site when you pull it up, though, is a large announcement asking for people to fill out a form to send to Col. Kelly of USACE. With 30,000 or 40,000 emails, Ruane said, Kelly might consider making a modification or two to his CC plan.

“We need to make sure everyone knows what is at stake,” he said. “We don’t want those high flows, and we need to tell the colonel that. It’s just that simple. We need to let him know that we won’t take whatever is thrown at us; we will see the west coast represented. It’s not a threat, it’s a promise. We have a voice, we will exercise our rights, and we will utilize every legal venue we have in front of us.”

Signing the letter at kevinruane.com consists of only typing in your name and email address. You do not have to be a voter, just a property owner. If you have any thought of doing so, though, you must do it quickly. USACE is scheduled to finalize their decision next week.

Kevin Ruane is the District 1 Lee County Commissioner, a district that includes the Lee County portion of Gasparilla Island.