As seen in a Naples Daily News Guest Opinion submitted by KC Schulberg, Executitve Director of Calusa Waterkeeper
It’s boom time again in Southwest Florida.

Home sales have shot up as folks fled the close-quartered Covid-ridden cities up North for the promise of sun-dappled beaches and glistening tides of Southwest Florida.

While some view development as the economic engine of our region, our local manatees and a few anglers I know may not be as enthusiastic. Unbridled growth, combined with years of neglected infrastructure such as our wastewater treatment plants, mask a harsh reality that we ignore at our peril. This puts us squarely on a collision course with climate change that imperils our very way of life in Southwest Florida.

Our economy, tourism, recreation — even our health — all depend on the quality of our waterways. And the waterways we love are in dire straits. They need our help.

Think about the magnificent body of water that is Estero Bay, Florida’s first Aquatic Preserve. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the designation of the Estero Bay Tributaries as Outstanding Florida Waters. The best way to commemorate this anniversary is to unite neighbors to protect and preserve the waterways. Sadly, last year, for the first time since the Florida Department of Environmental Protection started making assessments more than 20 years ago, the state declared the Bay impaired for nutrients.

Today, most of Estero Bay’s nine tributaries — Hendry Creek, Spring Creek, Mullock Creek, Mud Creek, the Estero River, Halfway Creek, Leitner Creek, and the Imperial River — have verified water quality impairments, determined by the FDEP, for bacterial contamination, heavy metals, and/or nutrient pollution.

To commemorate this 30th anniversary, Calusa Waterkeeper will present an online event called SAVING ESTERO BAY on Nov. 14. We will premiere a movie produced especially for the evening entitled ETERNAL VIGILANCE about the imperiled status of Estero Bay’s Tributaries. The film poignantly illustrates what it will take to claw the Bay and its tributaries back from an unchecked slide into degradation.

The movie’s contributors are eloquent. Marisa Carrozzo of The Conservancy of SWFL tells us, “That contrast between this beautiful natural setting (of Halfway Creek), the water, the wildlife and the encroaching development throughout the Estero Bay watershed really exemplifies the stresses that have been put on the tributaries over time.”

The last thing anyone would want is to go from tourist mecca to poster child for polluted water, with all of us holding our noses at fish kills, or worse, seeking admission to emergency rooms and lamenting the loss of our paradise.

Restoration is the order of the day, and we don’t have decades to sort this out. Many of our waterways are at a tipping point and may soon be beyond recovery.

I am heartened by a rising tide of genuine grassroots interest; folks who understand the importance of clean water and who seem ready to do the work necessary to encourage elected officials to meet the urgency of the moment. I have faith that we can make it happen.

Calusa Waterkeeper stands ready to lock arms with anyone ready to defend the Southwest Florida lifestyle we cherish, a lifestyle centered around clean water. It is worth fighting for, especially for our children and the generations to come.

We ask you to join us to support drinkable, fishable, swimmable water in Southwest Florida.

We can’t do it alone.