The holidays are upon us, and I’m asking the Florida Legislature to give a gift to our state’s waterways and environment. It’s a gift of finally taking action to solve the problems of toxic algae, bacterial contamination, loss of forests and open space, and myriad other maladies that threaten the very essence of life in Florida.
Last year the Legislature met on the heels of the worst outbreak of toxic algae the state has ever seen, as blue green algae clogged lakes and rivers, while red tide brought millions of dead fish and hundreds of rotting sea turtles and manatees upon our shores. Despite this backdrop, legislators failed to pass a single pro-environment piece of legislation. Not one.
For the 2020 session, I am more optimistic. Part of my reason for hope is the understanding that elected officials like to have backup for their actions. In this case, the governor’s Blue Green Algae Task Force provides plenty of focused,rational, and science-based recommendations. The panel of scientists began meeting last spring and by fall issued recommendations for ways to rein-in the nutrient pollution that is fueling toxic algae and decimating local economies that depend on clean water and beaches.
Governor Ron Desantis has proposed legislation that would tackle many of the Task Force recommendations, and would be a step forward from past inaction. He is proposing that farms be inspected for compliance with nutrient best management practices;that utilities develop formal plans for dealing with failing sewage infrastructure; and restrictions on spreading of biosolids. But his proposal falls short on following Task Force recommendations on requiring backup power to sewage lift stations; further restricting the use of septic systems on small lots; and conducting studies on the health impacts of blue green algae along with a coordinated public warning system when outbreaks occur. We need to push for more.
We also need the Legislature to honor the will of Florida’s voters, 75% of whom voted in 2014 to amend the state constitution to establish dedicated funding to preserve forests and wetlands through outright purchase and conservation easements. Legislators have mostly ignored the voters, spending only a pittance on land conservation rather than the $300 million per year we used to spend.
There are some $470 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, and all of that needs to go toward the direct preservation of the open spaces needed to filter and cleanse our watersheds so that rivers and streams flow clean in a state that loses over 100,000 acres of open space annually to development. So far the 2020 state budget proposes only $100 million for land preservation—far below what is needed and what the electorate supported in 2014.
The 2020 Florida Legislature convenes on January 14, and I will be engaging with Floridians and other environmental groups around issues affecting the clean water that is so fundamental to life in Florida. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year.