by Jim Metzler
The third annual Save Our Water Summit was held last week in Estero in front of a packed house. The upbeat mood of the presenters and panelists reflected the fact that since the beginning of the year, several positive environmental steps have been taken. However, given that major water problems still exist, that begs the question: What can we learn from the summit about the next steps in our battle for the water quality and quantity we need?
Dr. Tolley, FGCU
Dr. Greg Tolley of FGCU’s Water School briefly discussed Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and the toxins that are often associated with those blooms. Tolley pointed out that the HABs feed of nutrients in the water and hence reducing those nutrients is an effective way of combatting the blooms. He suggested several techniques to reduce the nutrient load in our water bodies, all of which can be implemented today. His suggestions included:
- Doing a better job of managing our irrigation systems so that they don’t sweep as many nutrients into our water bodies;
- Creating barriers around our farms and ranches to prevent animal waste from flowing into our water bodies;
- Reducing the use of fertilizers;
- Implementing more filter marshes, especially in cities;
- Improving water treatment facilities.
Noah Valenstein, FDEP
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has often been criticized for not enforcing the existing environmental regulations. The presentation made by Noah Valenstein, the secretary of the FDEP, demonstrated that Valenstein was well aware of that criticism. He pointed out that earlier this year Governor Desantis announced a reorganization that moved environmental crimes law enforcement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to the FDEP. Valenstein claimed that as a result of the reorganization, his department was now performing more inspections and prosecuting more environmental crimes that was done previously.
Eve Samples, Legislative Policy Panel
Eve Samples of the USA Today Network – Florida did an excellent job of moderating the Legislative Policy Panel. Her panelists included:
- Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director, Florida Conservation Voters
- Dana Eagle, Florida House of Representatives
- Robert Rommel, Florida House of Representatives
- Kathleen Passidomo, Florida Senate
When Samples kicked off the panel, she pointed out that although the last legislative session allocated $682 million for water projects, it didn’t pass any bills to deal with environmental issues such as fracking, septic systems, wastewater treatment or the use of biosolids. She asked the panelists what we could expect in the forthcoming legislative session. There were some positive responses. Eagle said he was hopeful that the legislature would do something about the use of biosolids. Passidomo expressed interest in supporting a ban on fracking if it was based on science that was specific to this area. Rommel said he would work on septic system legislation. However, each of the politicians on the panel dampened expectations that much would be accomplished in the next legislative session. They all stated that bills to deal with these types of issues are large and complex and as such, often take years to get passed.
In part because she is not a politician, Moncrief brought a different perspective to the panel. She briefly discussed Florida Forever, which is Florida’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. According to Moncrief, this program, which receive relatively little funding in the last legislative session, was once the best such program in the country. She also expressed her hope that Florida’s Blue Green Algae and Red Tide task forces would think beyond the next few projects and would also focus on policy needs. One need in particular she focused on was the need to replace some of the growth management policies that were removed in a 2011 rewrite of Florida Growth Management Act.
As is well known, on the second day of his administration, Governor DeSantis signed executive order 19-12 which laid out a broad set of objectives relative to protecting Florida’s environment. During his presentation, DeSantis said that it was important to issue that executive order very early in his administration to send a message that he was serious about the environment.
DeSantis spent a few moments summarizing what has been accomplished since January. In addition to getting $682 million in funding for water projects, that includes installing a governing board at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) that aggressively listens to the public, to appointing both a chief science officer and a chief resiliency officer and creating both a blue green algae and a red tide task force.
After spending a few minutes looking backwards in time, DeSantis spent a few minutes looking forward. He said that as we approach the forthcoming legislative session, there is a lot of momentum around continuing to move forward with improving our environment. He sounded somewhat optimistic that the legislature would continue to provide sufficient funding for water projects. He also pointed out that he can’t achieve his environmental objectives on his own, that he needs the public to urge the legislature to support his goals. He urged those in attendance to keep letting Florida’s legislators know of their concerns about their environment and to encourage the legislators to take action.
While it certainly is very positive that Florida’s legislature agreed to spend $682 million dollars of taxpayers’ money to store, convey and clean water, it is also very negative that they did nothing to stop the water from being polluted. This must change asap.
One critical next step that each of us can take is to contact our legislators and let them know that we want to see meaningful legislation to stop the sources of pollution. This includes legislation on topics such as fracking, septic systems, wastewater treatment and the use of biosolids. Ideally, none of us will do this on our own, but we will talk to friends and colleagues and get them to also contact their legislators.
For more background on this topic, there will be a discussion of Florida’s upcoming legislative session that will be held at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott on August 29, If possible, please attend. BTW, if you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find that out here.