Seventy Thousand Gallons a Second: A Lot to Trust

Seventy Thousand Gallons a Second: A Lot to Trust

Seventy thousand gallons a second. That’s a lot of water. Depending on the depth and width of the channel through which it was traveling, that could be one devastating wave.

But even if that volume has plenty of width and depth through which to flow, seventy thousand gallons per second is a lot of water.

River flows normally are measured by a less familiar-sounding unit: cubic feet per second (cfs). Seventy thousand gallons is just shy of nine thousand four hundred cfs.
Still sounds like a big number.

If we’re talking about the Mississippi River, nine thousand four hundred cfs would amount to roughly 2% of its typical flow. Noticeable, but not overwhelming.

If, however, we are talking about the Caloosahatchee River (and we are), we’re talking about a volume equal to or somewhat greater than what was reported by the U.S. Geological Survey as the river’s flow earlier this week.

Okay . . . that’s a lot of water.

That’s the number batted around as the potential rate of release from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They plan the release to relieve the pressure building up in the lake because of heavy rains.

Seventy thousand gallons of really dirty water.

Understandably, the communities down river are concerned about the effect such a massive flow of nutrient-rich water will have on sea grass beds, estuary fish and water fowl, and the conditions along the coast. Mayors of six Southwest Florida cities met on Wednesday to discuss their concerns and develop initial strategies for working together to address them.

What impressed me about these mayors was the tone they struck.

Without doubt, there are residents in these cities downstream and along the coast who are upset, frightened and/or angry about the polluted water that is coming their way. One could pander to them, stir them up and gain some political points (or at least avoid some political barbs). It would be easy, especially when the “enemy” is the big bad federal government in one of its manifestations that historically has been a popular target, the Army Corps of Engineers.

But that’s not the tone these mayors struck.

Instead, they emphasized the importance of dealing with the facts. They acknowledged that concerns for public safety needed to have priority over other concerns. They expressed a willingness to shoulder some of the costs, bear some of the pain that managing the flood waters would produce.

They made demands, too. They spoke of a need for clearer communication and greater transparency in dealing with the Corps and with the decisions to be made. After all, it is one thing to share the burden, another to take an undue share because of hidden agendas and machinations. Transparency goes a long way to giving the public confidence that the burden they bear is fair and necessary. Opaqueness undermines public trust and raises the spectre of unfair treatment.

Watching the presidential nomination contest, one might be inclined to worry about the future of our country (depending upon which side of various divides one is on). But looking at local leaders like those in Southwest Florida, the prospects definitely seem brighter, our future more secure.

These local leaders, like so many elected municipal officials around our state and our nation, deal in facts. They seek common ground.

They are not afraid to object, to raise concerns, and, indeed, to fight, when a fight is what is called for.

But first and foremost, they care about their citizens and their cities. They do what they do because they want to give back, want to make things better.

And because they do, our cities and their residents generally continue to thrive, even when they struggle, because they are led by those who view their public office as a gift and a trust.

I trust them to take the right path, even in tough times.

And that’s a lot of trust.

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