Is clean water important to you? Dead Sea Manatees. Toxic poisonous algae blooms. The canals were polluted due to poor runoff. The marshes have been paved. Springs leak for profit, then pollute. Septic tanks are leaking into our waterways.
And the list goes on: red tide is killing marine life. Solid waste is rampant on our farms. Phosphate mines pour into our rivers. Drilling exploratory oil wells in our natural lands. Seaweed has been eliminated in estuaries. Sewer pipes are bursting under our streets.
These are titles from the past two years. They are not from a generation before the Clean Water Act of 1972. All this happened under the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis. For anyone thinking of protecting Florida’s waterways from their worst enemy–ourselves–this will be the most important election we vote.
In January 2019, Two days after being sworn in to take over the state’s highest officeDeSantis wanted to make one thing clear: He would be the ruler of clean water. He was moving around the country, making announcements, creating entities to do what Environmental Protection Department (DEP) No longer protects Florida’s waterways.
In March 2019 at Nathaniel P.Reed National Wildlife Refuge in Hobe Sound, DeSantis appointed a blue-green algae task force, which is a board of five of the state’s most respected clean water scientists. It took barely seven months to craft a plan for how to undo the damage done to the waterways by former Governor Rick Scott and others.
DeSantis and the legislature rushed 87% of staff recommendations in the circular coil.
So here we are, three years after one pandemic, with a chart from our brightest minds on how to fix Florida’s complex water quality problems and no one in a leadership position seems to care.
On August 3, dozens of the most influential environmental groups emerged in the state Progress report issued On what we’ve come up with with the Blue Green Algae Task Force recommendations for October 2019. In short, the report suggests that DEP is:
• Don’t do it’s job
• Wasting time on ineffective programs that claim to clean sewers
• Wasted taxpayer money on ineffective projects – so far about $4.1 billion.
The report is also critical of the legislature, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The report examines seven areas identified in the task force’s recommendations:
• Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), which are designed to clean waterways using a variety of tools.
• Agriculture and management best practices
• On-site treatment and disposal of human waste
• Sewage is overflowing with human waste
• Rain water treatment
• Innovative technologies and applications
• Blue-green algae blooms and human health.
Here are three of the more than 25 failures described in the report:
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In pond management action plans: The costs of removing harmful nutrients are very high—up to $3,781 per pound of nitrogen, according to one report from the Department of Environmental Protection; Not enough water is planned for waterways that receive a lot of nutrients; Population growth projections are not incorporated into DEP planning.
Regarding sewage systems: Regulatory controls are lacking and the legislature has funded only $114 million of the $6.4 billion needed to replace the infrastructure.
Regarding green algal blooms and human health: Of the 33 sites with public access to Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding waterways when there was a boom, 71% did not have signs to warn the public about water contact.
Of the five minor successes listed in the report, two are in agriculture and best management practices: DACS encouraged farmers to voluntarily enroll 83% of acreage in the Best Management Practices Program, including all farms over 100 acres. However, I believe that best management practices should be mandatory and enforced.
It wasn’t DEP’s intention, but Presentation of the agency to the work team During an August 4 meeting in Fort Pierce, the report’s findings were corroborated.
Paul Gray, a scientist at Audubon Florida, was one of several who issued public comments in a complaint about DEP’s BMAP program.
“The BMAP for Lake Okeechobee started in 2014 and is supposed to be in place until 2034. DEP says we won’t be able to get there by then. We have BMAPs in one silo, CERP (Everglades Comprehensive Restoration Plan) in another. We need to integrate all the plans we have.”
One of the flaws in DEP is its inability to account for changes through time, said John Cassani, Caloosahatchee Waterkeeper.
“Population growth has a detrimental effect on water quality. A DEP report in 2010 recorded 1,900 miles of disrupted waterways. In 2020, that grew to more than 9,000 miles.”
Election day is approaching. Florida residents should look in the mirror and ask themselves what clean water means to them and whether they want to see it come true. Who we vote for will determine the future state of Florida’s waterways.
DeSantis started running with the right foot. What he failed to do was follow up on the legislature’s substantive demands to address water quality. He failed to direct state agencies — DEP, DOH, and DACS — to do anything. He did not re-establish the authority to enforce standards within agencies. Standards must be clear and well thought out, and progress must be seen. Sanctions should be painful and deter illegal behavior.
Instead of approaching the state’s water problems like Florida’s, DeSantis approached them as a politician.
Ed Keeler is TCPalm in the fresh air clerk for TCPalmwhich is part of sea invasion A collaborative of Florida editorial boards, including the Tampa Bay Times, focused on the threats posed by climate warming.
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