I recently returned from a lovely holiday in southwest Florida. This warm, tropical location is like a piece of heaven to those of us who live in wintry places like Winnipeg. But I was both dismayed and encouraged by some of what I saw there and it involved WATER – what else?
Florida is a haven for thousands of people seeking sun and warmth, offering access to beautiful beaches along the Gulf coast of Florida. However, according to Andrew McElwaine, President of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 97% of the bays and estuaries are in poor shape and 42% of streams are impaired, deemed unsafe for swimming or fishing. As well 22 of Florida’s major beaches are unsafe for swimming at least 2 weeks of every year. This information comes from the Conservancy’s 2011 Estuaries Report Card. The Estuaries Report Card offers a 10 point plan for restoring, conserving and protecting the estuaries. I was encouraged to see that many of the points were very similar to the Lake Winnipeg Health Plan which I participated in creating in 2013. Drainage/wetlands; restoring natural hydrology; enhancing wastewater treatment; adopting sustainable agricultural practices and conducting comprehensive monitoring were some of the points.
We visited the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples and enjoyed one of their electric boat eco-cruises to learn more about the ecology of the mangrove swamps. I was encouraged to see a demonstration project right on the Conservancy’s site to create a marsh to filter water, much like the concept of constructed and restored wetlands we are trying to promote in our part of the world. We saw another example of a “filter marsh” in Lakes Park in Fort Myers, designed to slow and filter storm-water run-off.
In the end, it was helpful to see several examples of projects designed to restore and protect water but it re-affirmed for me that the issues we face across the Prairies related to water pollution, are surfacing across our continent. We cannot waste any time in adopting the practices that we know will stop the degradation of our waters, if we want to have safe drinkable, swimmable, fishable waters. What will life be without that?