by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Two days after taking office, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order 19-12: Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment, implementing major reforms to ensure the protection of the state’s environment and water quality.
“Our water and natural resources are the foundation of our economy and way of life in Florida,” said DeSantis. “The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state. That’s why I’m taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities.”
DeSantis also called for the resignation of the nine Governing Board members of the South Florida Water Management District on Thursday, Jan. 10. The action came after the Governing Board voted to extend a lease to sugar farmers on land that has been designated for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir in November 2018. DeSantis had requested the board delay that decision until he had a chance to review it.
“Everglades restoration is the centerpiece of our strategy to improve our water, and the actions of the SFWMD are incredibly important in aiding the success of that strategy,” DeSantis wrote in a letter to the board. “It is time for a clean reset of the leadership of the Board to focus the appropriate attention on this bold vision.”
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation CEO Ryan Orgera and Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel were a part of a roundtable briefing with DeSantis, and other leaders, that same day. “We are very encouraged by the Governor’s action in calling for effective, consensus-driven, solutions-oriented leadership at SFWMD,” said Orgera.
“Organizations like SCCF, which fight day in and day out for effective water management and natural resource policy in the State of Florida, need strong partners in Tallahassee,” added Wessel. “By his actions (Thursday), our new governor has taken clear and decisive leadership on behalf of Florida’s citizens.”
The executive order calls for:
$2.5 Billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources (a $1 Billion increase in spending over the previous four years and the highest level of funding for restoration in Florida’s history).
The Establishment of a Blue-Green Algae Task Force, charged with focusing on expediting progress toward reducing the adverse impacts of blue-green algae blooms now and over the next five years.
Instruction to the South Florida Water Management District to immediately start the next phase of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project design and ensure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the project according to schedule.
The Creation of the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency charged with organizing and directing integrated scientific research and analysis to ensure that all agency actions are aligned with key environmental priorities.
The Appointment of a Chief Science Officer to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians.
“We are very excited about this executive order,” said Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce President John Lai, who has been active in the water quality fight. “The strength of our economy depends on the health of our waterways, quality of our beaches, and value of our real estate – all of which is tied directly to the initiatives outlined in this executive order.”
It may bring hope to our community, but the execution and appropriation of the funding will require support from legislators. “We as a business community must continue to make our voices heard,” said Lai. “The Sanibel and Captiva Chamber will be committed to assist in advocacy and education every step of the way.”