Without significant Lake Okeechobee discharges, the Caloosahatchee River still suffers from high nutrients because of the local watershed.

Thursday, August 8th 2019, 5:10 PM EDT by Jaclyn Bevis

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Without significant Lake Okeechobee discharges, the Caloosahatchee River still suffers from high nutrients because of the local watershed.

Watershed is the water runoff, including rainwater, that runs across the land of Southwest Florida and makes its way into the water. It can be straight to the river, through tributaries, or even through your local drainage ditches.

Dr. James Douglas at Florida Gulf Coast University demonstrated the water flow process with sand land and board game homes, showing that as rainwater fell, it went toward the river and Gulf no matter where on the landscape it fell.

“A really heavy rain, or a really heavy discharge, can bust lose nutrient-rich dirt that’s been on the bottom [of the river],” Dr. Douglas explained.

While heavy discharges have not been an issue in 2019, the continued concern is if high-nutrient watershed puts the Caloosahatchee River at risk. 

Dr. Douglas encourages fertilizer bans to help avoid adding additional nutrients to the water that heads toward our coast. However, he also suggests keeping plants in your community.

“We really overlook the benefits they have in reducing pollution,” Dr. Douglas said of plants, often thought of as nuisances and removed from ditches and drainage areas. “It’s important we protect remaining natural areas.”

At The Place at Corkscrew, developers considered the land use when they started their work. Of the thousands of acres considered part of the community, they spent $10 million restoring much of the land. 

“We shared some concerns [with the county],” civil engineer Tony Cameratta with Cameratta Companies said, standing at the edge of one of the locations first major improvements, a wetland area. “It provides significant wildlife habitats. It provides water quality treatment for surface water and infiltration into the groundwater.”

Cameratta said, within just a couple years, they’re already seeing more than 50 species, some rare, return to the area where they once likely called home. 

The people calling The Place home along Corkscrew Road embrace the limited home building and additional environmental awareness. 

The work is not just enhancing the beauty of the area east of their interstate but also the water impact as well.

“Since construction of these filter marshes, the nitrogen and phosphorus levels [of property discharges] dropped over 50 percent already,” Cameratta said, adding that the number is expected to continue falling. 

A father himself, Cameratta hopes to show his children the land-use decisions that will create a landscape for all to enjoy in the near and distant future. 

The company already plans to add another similar community nearby, also considered to be part of the county’s Environmental Enhancement Overlay, which encourages developers to limit their footprint by enhancing some of the natural lands lost over time. 

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