A water forum to educate the public about freshwater releases and Lake Okeechobee will be held at the Cape Coral Library on Saturday.
The Coastal Estuaries in Peril forum, first held on Captiva Island on Aug. 26, is coming to the library on Sept. 7 from 2-4 p.m.
Ray Judah, former Lee County Commissioner and coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, and Jennifer Hecker, Natural Resource Policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, will speak at the forum.
Although the topics discussed will be similar to the meeting on Captiva Island, Judah said an emphasis will be placed on informing the public about the state's three-year option to purchase land from U.S. Sugar.
He said the option includes 153,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee that could be purchased for $7,400 per acre, but the deal expires in October. If the state doesn't exercise that option then clearly the price will increase and they will have to compete against other potential buyers, said Judah.
Gov. Rick Scott announced a $90 million environmental project to raise 2.6-miles of Tamiami Trail in the Everglades, which would facilitate the natural flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee, but Judah said it won't ease the releases to Southwest Florida unless the sugar land is purchased and used to divert water south.
Rather than naturally running south, water from the lake is now diverted east and west to St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee basins. Judah said the purchase of sugar land could be used to begin diverting water south to the Everglades and land swap with companies to acquire other lands needed for the project.
"It would save the coastal estuaries from the damaging releases," said Judah. "This is the only way to route the volume of water that is in the lake that has to be released during the wet summer months."
Purchasing the sugar land under the three-year option would cost $1.1 billion, said Judah, but in perspective the entire Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) will cost $16 billion.
Hecker will discuss how the murky water affects Southwest Florida. Tourism is the state's primary industry and she said some tourists are canceling trips to this region. Ninety percent of surveyed hotels on Fort Myers Beach said they had cancellations over the water, according to a survey conducted by the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She will also discuss other steps that need to be taken to protect local estuaries, including a revision of the South Florida Water Management District operations, declaring a state of emergency and flooding the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), and finishing the sugar land purchases.
The library event is co-sponsored by the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. The Cape Coral Library is at 921 SW 39th Terrace. For more information, call 980-2593.