For this installment of “Organization of the Month,” we chatted with the folks at Captains for Clean Water and learned about all the great work they do for Florida’s marine ecosystems. For decades, poor water quality, harmful discharges, and toxic algae blooms have plagued Florida’s water and vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation economies. Captains for Clean Water was founded by fishing guides to correct the missteps and restore the natural flow of Lake Okeechobee water south into the Everglades and Florida Bay. Follow along for more!
Flylords: When and why did Captains For Clean Water start?
CFCW: Captains For Clean Water (CFCW) officially started in 2016. As fishing guides,
we saw the decline of our local estuaries for years and recognized the need for the
outdoor community to have a voice in regard to our state’s water mismanagement.
By providing an outlet for these voices to be heard, we are able to advance
solutions to these issues through Everglades restoration.
Flylords: Care to give us the spark notes version of Florida’s water issues?
CFCW: During the early 1900’s, there was an effort to transform “useless swampland” into suitable land for agriculture and industrial development. This mainly consisted of draining the Everglades and was viewed as progress toward the settlement of Florida. However, these changes disrupted the balance of the Everglades ecosystem, sending too much fresh water to the east and west coast while starving the Everglades and Florida Bay. As industrial agriculture continued to grow, the powerful special interests of the sugar industry worked to gain control of Lake Okeechobee. In doing so, they have prioritized the needs of their corporation over that of the natural ecosystem and general public. These actions treat Lake Okeechobee as a private reservoir rather than a natural lake, which only exacerbates the existing damage to the greater Everglades ecosystem and estuaries around the state.
Flylords: How far back do these water issues go?
CFCW: Florida’s water issues started almost a century ago and have grown exponentially
worse over the years. For too long, the public was largely unaware of these issues, which meant there was little to no political will to drive solutions.
Flylords: You guys are on the water more than most, how drastic have some of the
environmental changes and impacts been?
CFCW: As fishermen, we see impacts to water quality and surrounding habitats first-hand
and are often referred to as the “canaries in a coal mine.” We’ve witnessed thousands of acres of seagrass loss, reduction of oyster beds, toxic blue-green algae blooms, and massive marine life die-offs. These environmental impacts directly affect Florida’s economy including the marine, fishing, tourism, and real estate industries.
Flylords: What are some of the ways Captains For Clean Water works towards repairing the damage done by years of water mismanagement?
CFCW: CFCW works to educate both the public and stakeholders on our water issues and
the importance of their actions in advancing long-term solutions. By taking action, we are able to push representatives at the state and federal level to advance Everglades restoration projects that have been stalled and stagnated over the last 20 years.
Flylords: Is there a solution for Florida’s water and affected ecosystems?
CFCW: The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and Central Everglades
Planning Project (CEPP) encompass a suite of 68 projects that will reconnect the historical flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the central Everglades, southern Everglades, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay, benefiting the entire connected system. In total, these projects make up one of the largest restoration efforts ever undertaken in the United States.
Flylords: What is preventing this from quickly happening?
CFCW: The influence of the powerful corporate sugar industry on our political system
keeps Lake Okeechobee managed for their benefit, which delays progress for Everglades restoration.
Flylords: I know the upcoming House of Representatives’ Water Resources Development Act has some major implications for Florida’s water and everything Captains For Clean Water has worked towards. Can you tell us a little about this?
CFCW: A recent political scheme was being led by certain members of Congress to add
language to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 that would prioritize the irrigation needs of the industrial sugar industry over all other water users and undo decades of restoration progress. These are the types of back channel road blocks that have historically delayed progress. Together with other conservation groups, we’ve been making the public aware of this and giving them an easy way to contact Congress and urge them to reject the effort.
Flylords: What does the future look like for the Everglades and South Florida?
CFCW: Today, more people than ever understand the importance of Everglades restoration and the role they play. As a result, we’re starting to see progress toward getting restoration projects back on track. Completion of Everglades restoration is years if not decades away. The future of Florida’s water depends on more people getting involved and staying involved until restoration is fully achieved.
Flylords: How can Flylords’ readers help further Captains For Clean Water’s mission?
CFCW: By learning about the efforts of CFCW, sharing that knowledge with others, and taking action, Flylords readers can help to grow the grassroots effort that is finally moving the needle in the right direction for Everglades restoration and protect these unique estuaries for future generations to experience.
Learn more about our organization and join the fight at captainsforcleanwater.org.
You can also stay up-to-date by following @captainsforcleanwater on Facebook and Instagram or @capt4cleanwater on Twitter.