Florida Governor Proposes 'Comprehensive' Environmental Protections

Oct 17, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis this week announced environmental proposals for the 2020 legislative session, based on recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, that are designed to expedite water quality improvements throughout Florida.

DeSantis created the Blue-Green Algae Task Force shortly after taking office to help the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, with a focus on water quality.

Related: Gov. DeSantis Signs Executive Order Pledging To Secure $2.5B For FL’s Environmental Issues

The governor announced the environmental proposals Wednesday in Jupiter, following a tour of the Loxahatchee River District. He was joined by DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer and other officials from across Florida.

“The health of our state depends on the health and quality of our water,” said DeSantis. “That is why I am proposing legislation to expedite the improvement of our water quality throughout Florida. These comprehensive proposals, recommended by the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, will greatly aid the Department of Environmental Protection in our mission to enhance the quality of our state’s most precious natural resource.”

The proposal follows up on directives laid out in an executive order DeSantis signed in January to address the state’s environmental issues. The pakage is aimed at reducing nutrient pollution in water and protecting public health.

Related:

“Addressing nutrient impacts will require actions by all stakeholders in Florida and significant water quality changes can only occur when all stakeholders work together,” said Valenstein. “This legislation is the foundation for implementing necessary actions by the department, local governments and our regulated community based on the Task Force’s recommendations.”

Valenstein said this was the most comprehensive legislation to protect the environment he’s seen in his career.

“The only time you’d see a bill like that come before the legislature was, unfortunately, if it was doing the opposite thing - rolling back protections,” he said. “This is a comprehensive effort to increase protections for the environment, and something that’s been long in the waiting.”

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, said, “Today’s announcement ends the era of defending the status quo and moves us into a new chapter of fixing what has been neglected. "We look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to improve our waterways, restore the Everglades, and protect Florida’s vibrant economy.”

Gary Jennings, Director of Keep Florida Fishing, said, “Keep Florida Fishing supports the Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s multi-faceted, science-based approach to improving water quality throughout the state. Water quality is critical for maintaining fish habitat and healthy fish populations, which are so important to Florida’s $11.5 billion sportfishing industry and more than 4 million anglers.”

Valenstein said the DEP is already working to implement some of the task force’s recommendations.

DeSantis’ new legislation would add the following actions:

  • Require utilities to develop inspection, maintenance and replacement plans for their wastewater systems, rather than allowing these systems to age and fall into despair.
  • Give DEP the authority to intervene by inspecting the above mentioned systems and require appropriate proactive measures to upkeep wastewater facilities to better avoid future discharges.
  • Ratify recent rules adopted by DEP to ensure biosolids are only applied to land that is high enough and dry enough to prevent interaction with groundwater.
  • Transfer the authority of septic tank inspection from the Department of Health (DOH) to DEP to ensure environmental harm by septic systems is accounted for.
  • Require plans for the improvement of impaired water bodies, known as Basin Management Action Plans, to include septic remediation plans
  • Require DEP to coordinate with top academic institutions to annually send the most updated research to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to ensure agricultural best management practices, which are required in some cases, are grounded in the most up-to-date science.
  • Require onsite verification of best management practices for each enrolled agricultural producer at least every two years.
  • Require DACS to provide DEP and water management districts the types and amounts of nutrients best management practices enrollees are tracking on agricultural products.
  • Direct DEP to adopt rules to ensure that stormwater systems throughout the state reflect the most up-to-date science and contemplate environmental harm.

In its recommendations, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force wrote that policies like these are urgently needed as issues like toxic algae blooms and sewer overflows become more common due to sea level rise as well as more frequent and intense rainfall events, storm surges, and high tide events. All are symptoms of a changing climate caused mainly by an excess of greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth's atmosphere. 

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.