What’s a Florida resident to do when one of the greatest perks of living in this state–close proximity to the water–becomes a danger to your health?
Jody O’Konski has lived on a canals in Fort Myers for nearly three decades. In an interview with Bullsugar, she recounts her time spent along the water among her greatest sources of enjoyment. Somewhere she describes spending countless hours sitting or strolling along with her family and her dog, Duke. Somewhere she can watch the dolphins and the birds and take in the scenery that makes this place such an iconic paradise for so many.
But in 2018 her perspective changed. A terrible odor filled the air and the canal in her back yard filled with thick plumes of green water. She recalls a certain point during that summer, reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, when the waterway that she knew to be so vibrant and full of life went quiet. There were no dolphins, there were no fish, there were no birds. At the same time along the St. Lucie River on the opposite coast, reports linked dog deaths to exposure to microcystin, a toxin produced by cyanobacteria blooms fed by freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Suddenly her backyard oasis held an ominous threat made only more worrisome by research indicating that the toxin was aerosolized. There was no escaping it.
Jody began to fear each notice announcing another release of water to the Caloosahatchee, knowing it was only a matter of time before the devastating effects reached her home downstream. She mourned the loss of the environment she loved and she worried for the health of her dog and family.
This past summer brought relief and a chance for recovery that Jody is grateful for. But she urged a proactive response that’s important to remember. Operational management that lowered lake levels before the rainy season this year spared us from the massive discharge events we’ve seen in the past, but it won’t be long before summer is back again. We’ve got to keep the pressure on to ensure responsible water management that protects the health and safety of all Floridians, every year.
How can you help? Simple: Speak up, like Jody did here. Keep telling your stories. It’s these genuine narratives that bring real human faces to this issue and create a plea that’s impossible to ignore. Write to every elected official whose salary you pay. Write to your local paper. Go to town halls and meetings and ask hard questions. Demand the clean water future that every generation that comes after us deserves.
It’s possible–but we need your voices now more than ever.