Daniel Andrews, who formed Captains for Clean Water two years before Southwest Florida’s blue-green algae crisis of 2018, hopes he can someday shutter his nonprofit organization and get back to fishing full time.
Andrews said the events of this year give him hope for further Everglades restoration and improved water management practices that will spare the region from what he considered to be harmful water releases into the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee.
“I think the veto of Senate Bill 2508 was one of the strongest messages that’s ever been sent on where we’re at with Everglades restoration and water management,” said Andrews, who was featured in this month’s issue of Gulfshore Business magazine. “That bill was an assault on all of the progress that’s been made over the last decade on water management and Everglades restoration. To veto that bill, I think the governor sent a very strong message that we’re in a new era.”
But there’s still work to be done, said Andrews, who met with Gov. Ron DeSantis several times in advance of him vetoing the bill in June.
Andrews took Gulfshore Business out on the water again this week to show where harmful impacts from the Lake Okeechobee’s discharges remain in effect, near the mouth of the river as it flows out into the Gulf of Mexico, adjacent to Kitchel Key.
“It’s really the ground zero for the lasting damages from Lake Okeechobee discharges,” Andrews said. “If you were to rewind the clock and come in here 15, 20 years ago, these islands had very healthy seagrass beds, turtle grass beds and oyster beds around them. That’s what’s changed.
“This is the main channel that brings water out from the Caloosahatchee out to the Gulf of Mexico. This is an area where all of that water really gets funneled. The water from Lake Okeechobee discharges, it gets funneled right through here. Because of that, this area has been impacted a lot harder.”
Better water quality means a better business environment in the region, Andrews said. A University of Florida study showed the tourism sector lost $184 million in 2018 because of the algae outbreak.
“The work that we do at Captains for Clean Water is something that is important to all the local businesses, residents and property owners here,” Andrews said. “All of our property values are directly linked to the health of these estuaries. If we have dead fish and algae blooms, that has a direct, negative impact on our real estate. Even if you live inland.
“If you look around and see all the hotels and the waterfront restaurants around here, the real estate, our economy depends on this water. It didn’t used to 100 years ago. Now it does. We have to treat this resource a lot better than we have been.”
Everglades restoration and improved water management practices with Lake Okeechobee remain the top missions for Captains for Clean Water, he said.
The vetoing of that bill has given Andrews hope that maybe someday he can spend less time in an office fighting for clean water and more time outside, enjoying it.
“We’ve seen the clearest and cleanest water we’ve ever seen this year,” Andrews said. “Between the new lake operations plan and killing that bad bill, we’ve had the most progress this year. People are engaged in this fight. We’re not going to stop until there’s a permanent solution.”