There are three existential threats to our Southwest Florida community. First, deterioration of water quality, highlighted by the algal blooms and red tide currently plaguing our rivers and coastal waters. Second, rising sea levels which, if unchecked, will increase flooding and threaten the future of our coastal communities. Lastly, forecasted population increases east of Interstate 75 threaten the Everglades ecosystem and place heavy burdens on our transportation infrastructure. We must soon address these challenges to protect our quality of life.
Our tourism- and real estate-based economy in Southwest Florida has already suffered greatly from the degradation of our water quality. We need to send water south from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades to Florida Bay, instead of discharging it into the Caloosahatchee. In the 21 months I have served in Congress we have been successful in achieving nearly $1.1 billion in funding that will speed up repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, completing it many years ahead of schedule, and will fund construction of the EAA Reservoir. This reservoir is critical to store, treat and carry water south of Lake Okeechobee, instead of releasing it into the Caloosahatchee and the Gulf.
I have successfully fought for funding to complete Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects. Now we are seeing results- a record $115 million set aside for CERP in the FY2019 budget. A key factor in securing these funds was bringing key decision-makers from Washington to Southwest Florida to see the Lake Okeechobee Watershed firsthand, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Sea-level rise is the second threat to our community. Rising sea levels increase flooding and intensify the impact of hurricanes, including their storm surge, underscoring the need for proactive planning to mitigate these effects.
Collier County is already taking measures to plan ahead. Thanks to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Florida, a team of scientists is working with county officials to predict the effects of sea-level rise and stronger storms on our community. Inaction already costs us billions. Damage from Hurricane Irma cost the United States $50 billion. Further, 40-60% of small Irma, causing long term damage to our economy. Florida cities are already spending over $4 billion to strengthen infrastructure, improve drainage, renourish beaches and combat tidal flooding. This is the result of 6 inches of sea-level rise over the last 30 years; levels are expected to rise another 6 inches in the next 15 years.
The third problem is population growth and accelerating development east of Interstate 75. Unless we want to widen I-75 like the Santa Monica Freeway, we need to undertake planning which will be required to build a new north-south roadway. Additionally, the further east both population and infrastructure move, the greater the adverse impact on the Everglades ecosystem, affecting the unique species of plants and animals in the ecosystem that attract ecotourists and boost our local economy. Future infrastructure projects here, such as a new road, must respect the environment.
Mitigating the effects of these three existential threats to Southwest Florida must be the top priority for our community. Without comprehensive action to address all of the factors which contribute to the environmental disasters plaguing our Southwest Florida community, the damage will continue. Our quality of life is at stake. Contact Congressman Rooney at:
Lee County Office
1039 S.E. 9th Place • Suite 308
Cape Coral, FL 33990
Collier County Office
3299 Tamiami Trail East • Suite 105
Naples, FL 34112
Washington, DC Office
120 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.