Clean Water for Charleston Park
Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It happened recently in Lee County.
On the last weekend of October 2017, the News-Press published an exposé about a drinking water quality problem in Charleston Park – a rural community of about 112 households, between Alva and LaBelle. Most people living there use wells to supply water to their homes. For decades, Lee County officials have known that water from these wells is filled with bacteria and nitrates, but the problem was never adequately addressed. The county has no legal obligation to solve problems with drinking water from private wells.
After reading the exposé, a small number of people from various parts of the county were sufficiently concerned about this continuing problem that they contacted the News-Press reporter, Janine Zeitlin, who wrote most of the articles in the exposé. She then connected these people via e-mail. Then they all arranged to meet on November 20 at the Goodwill offices on Tice Street in Fort Myers.
Present at this meeting were Neil Volz of Lighthouse Communications; Matt Visaggio of Visaggio & Co.; Carmen Salomé, a retired public servant from Cape Coral; LaShay Russ, the Resident Coordinator for the Charleston Park Community Association; a few of the administrative staff of Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida; Janine Zeitlin; and me, a retired science writer from Sanibel.
The meeting progressed quickly and a nonprofit organization, Blankets & Blessings, was identified as the likely fiscal agent for receiving donations. The group decided to accept the generous offer of help from Tim Byrnes, owner of Aqua Consultants in Cape Coral. Tim had offered to install the needed filtration equipment at the cost of the equipment alone – approximately $1200 per home. Fundraising plans were discussed, and the project was off to a rapid start.
The group decided that the initial goal, “Clean Water by Christmas,” was to have the filtration equipment installed in one home by December 25.
Following the meeting, action was taken. Funds were raised by Blankets & Blessings. Matt Visaggio created a Facebook page for the project. A large delivery of bottled water was made to Charleston Park. Tim Byrne installed filters at well heads and under kitchen sinks. Other various small problems with individual wells were corrected.
That initial goal of one installation by Christmas was met, and exceeded. At this point in time, installations have been completed at five homes owned by senior citizens in Charleston Park. According to Carmen, “We are in the final retesting stages. We don't want to move on to the next one until we get every aspect right on these. The Lee County Department of Health was out to retest last week. As soon as I get those results we are good to move on. The plan is to be at the next Charleston Park Community meeting to sign up and schedule the next resident. We are only focusing on owner-occupied homes at this time. But we are discussing how to help the renters.”
Many residents of Charleston Park live at or below the poverty line. They cannot afford a regular monthly water bill, so the funding for fixing the individual wells is essential for them to have accessible, affordable clean water. The nearest place to buy bottled water is miles away.
For more information, visit Clean Water for Charleston Park on Facebook.