Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Well, if all you're doing is flushing away your future, who cares how clean the water is?


Elnuestros wonders if any of the people now sitting on the Collier County Board of Commissioners have seen fit to acquaint themselves with The Naples Bay Study, a seminal work published in 1979 by the Conservancy and still considered the last word on the challenges that body of water faces.

If they had, they might have seen these words in the very front of the book: "A complete and integrated investigation into the testing, analysis and future of artificial residential canals. It contains hydrological, biological, water quality, legal and engineering features of a canal complex and its associated waterways in South Florida."

In other words, the only way to study Naples Bay was to study the canal system that converted it from an oyster-rich, shoal-pocked, marine environment that drained roughly 10 square miles into the severely damaged, barely functioning backyard lagoon it had become by the late 70s. Needless to say, it's worse today.

The authors of The Naples Bay Study cited the impact of 183 miles of canals intended to drain Golden Gate Estates in creating a "severely stratified salt-fresh condition in the wet months." As a bonus, the canals also prevented the slow absorption of fresh water into the underlying aquifer and caused the land to become so dry that forest wildfires became more frequent and destructive.

The Naples Bay Study was intended to answer such questions as:
•What are the effects of canals on the Naples Bay estuary?
• What are the results of excess fresh water drainage from the Gordon River?
• What factors contribute to pollution, and what effect does pollution have on public health?
• Can sanitary problems be reasonably and economically corrected?
• Who is legally responsible for what is in and around the canals?
• What effect do canals have on freshwater supplies in the aquifers?
• How can a system that borders both the City of Naples and Collier County be managed and governed?

Judging from the action the commissioners took -- unanimously -- this morning, Elnuestros is guessing that no, they haven't read it and don't intend to until they finish everything James Patterson can churn out.

In an effort to settle a lawsuit by environmental groups, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed placing limits on the amount of nutrients and pollution allowed in Florida's waterways. Most of Collier County's waterways are canals, and the rule would apply to them as well. Because they are already filthy, they would join a list of polluted waterways. That, in turn,  would trigger mandatory cleanup measures.

That's causing no end of heartburn among Chamber types, who say the science is bad and the cost is too high.

For the record, there's a ton of folks out there who believe the "science" establishing the Origin of Species is bad, even though it is central to our understanding of biology. There are people who believe the "science" establishing the value of fluoridation, vaccinations, birth control, sound nutrition and daily exercise are bad. These people choose to live their lives toothless and pox-ridden with a slew of young 'uns underfoot and the specter of heart disease, stroke and diabetes hovering over their obese bodies as they crank themselves up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart scarfing up Industrial Junk Food by the boxcar load. That's how much Elnuestros credits the charge of "bad science."

But the Commissioners love them some Chamber types, who have the clout and the pull and the wherewithal to ease election-night jitters for the Bold Decisive Newcomers that Collier County's legions of other newcomers insist on giving the keys to the future.

And as for cost? Well, any cost is too much when you can't run a direct line from the outlay to the profit. In a town that pioneered the practice of giving lawns "nitrogen shots" to green them up for the real-estate photographers, an expense that doesn't lead directly to a sale is the kind of foolishness only a tree-hugger would entertain.

Back in 2005, Naples' Natural Resources Director told The Naples Daily News he'd like to see Naples Bay clean enough to produce edible fish within five years. Well, it's been five years. He'd like to see people swimming in it in 10, he added. At the time, he said his opinion was that things were happening, just slower than he would like. He was so full of optimism, a person would have to be a stone-cold cynic to read his hopeful words and not get all fluttery at the thought of good things coming our way.

In the same article, one of the authors of The Naples Bay Study, former Conservancy Science Director Bernie Yokel, said he feared people would become so accustomed to a degraded Naples Bay that they would assume it was "normal." He said the changes suggested by the study he helped write were, 25 years later, still waiting to happen.

He can wait some more, it looks like. The clock is still ticking and nothing has been done. The water still pours out of Golden Gate at rates that make Naples Bay little more than a storm drain. Despite calls to limit the runoff of nutrients and pesticides from yards and gardens, the Culture of the Blemish-Free Lawn remains strong. A society that reaches for the chemicals at the first sign of a drooping member, a nasty zit or an anxious moment isn't about to forsake Better Living Through Chemistry just because the byproduct is a dead ecosystem.

As far as the commissioners are concerned, the subject isn't even a suitable topic of conversation. Let the canals fester. The people who deserve to catch fish can get all they want in Costa Rica, where the water's still clean and likely to stay that way if for no other reason than that rich developers need neat places to go and play, away from the mess they left behind.

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