Gov. DeSantis announces environmental priorities

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is following up on a campaign promise to make the environment a priority by signing an executive order to address problems with algae that have plagued the state.

DeSantis signed the order Thursday morning in Bonita Springs in southwest Florida, one of the areas where slimy, green algae have bloomed because of pollutants flowing downstream from Lake Okeechobee.

DeSantis is ordering the state departments of environmental protection and health to work with the state’s tourism agency to secure $2.5 billion to help restore the Everglades and protect water resources.

The order also creates the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency. It also directs the Department of Environmental Protection to appoint a chief science officer to research and analyze environmental concerns.

The 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.

Executive Order 19-12: Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment

Section 1: Focus on Rapid Improvement for Water Quality, Quantity and Supply

I hereby direct the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Health (DOH) as provided in paragraph J below, and Visit Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) as provided in paragraph L below, to take the following actions to enhance Florida’s water quality and preserve its natural resources:

A. Secure $2.5 billion over the next four years to invest in Everglades restoration and protecting our water resources.

B. Establish 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. This task force should support key funding and restoration initiatives to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the downstream estuaries. This task force should identify priority projects for funding that are based on scientific-data and build upon Basin Management Action Plans to provide the largest and most meaningful nutrient reductions in key waterbodies, as well as make recommendations for regulatory changes.

C. Update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting South Florida communities, including Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. These updates will ensure that the Blue-Green Algae Task Force has the necessary information to provide guidance to DEP on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements.

D. Instruct 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.

E. Expedite key Everglades projects including the C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment area, C-43 reservoir, Tamiami Trail and additional projects necessary to protect our waterways and natural resources.

F. Work with the South Florida Water Management District to add stormwater treatment to the C-43 Reservoir to provide additional treatment and improve the quality of water leaving this important storage component.

G. Expedite projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve management of Lake Okeechobee, including updating the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule and identifying water quality treatment technologies to install near water control structures in Lake Okeechobee.

H. Direct DEP to establish a septic conversion and remediation grant program with a local government match requirement.

I. Instruct all five water management districts to increase transparency and accountability by providing data and information to DEP to support key water quality restoration efforts. Instruct all water management districts to review budgets and prioritize available funding to focus on projects that will help address harmful algae blooms and maximize nutrient reductions.

J. Participate in Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force to provide technical expertise and assistance studying causes and impacts of red tide. The DOH is also directed to participate in FWC’s Task Force to help study air quality and human health impacts of red tide.

K. Continue DEP’s red tide emergency grant program to support local governments to clean up their beaches and coastal areas to minimize the impacts of red tide to residents and visitors.

L. Partner with Visit Florida and DEO to identify opportunities within communities and recommend investments in green infrastructure, such as wetland treatment systems, that benefit our natural resources and local economies by increasing recreational and tourism opportunities, while improving water quality.

M. Engage local governments, industry, universities and water management districts to identify and research all viable alternative water supply sources and provide an assessment of funding needs critical to supporting Florida’s growing economy. DEP should take all necessary steps to establish recurring funding for an alternative water supply grant program to help communities plan for and implement vital conservation, reuse and other alternative water supply projects.

N. Engage local governments, industry, citizens and other stakeholders through a targeted education and outreach campaign that will focus on the importance of conservation and reuse efforts and encourage Floridians to implement essential conservation and reuse efforts in their homes, businesses and communities throughout Florida.

O. Continue to explore every option to stop Georgia’s harmful upstream water use from causing further adverse impacts to the Apalachicola River and Bay.

Section 2: Restructuring to Focus on Accountability, Transparency, and Science to Achieve More Now for Florida’s Environment

I hereby direct DEP to implement the following actions to ensure the agency is making sound decisions based on the best available science and providing for accountability and transparency:

A. Create 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.

B. Appoint 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.

C. Take all necessary actions to move the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Unit from FWC to DEP to align resources focused on environmental protection and ensure strong enforcement of Florida’s environmental laws.

Section 3: Ensure Florida’s Valuable and Vulnerable Coastlines and Natural Resources are Protected

I hereby direct DEP to implement the following actions to protect Florida’s coastlines and natural resources:

A. Create the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise by providing funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, regional and local entities.

B. Take necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.

EARLIER COVERAGE

New Governor Ron DeSantis is scheduled to make a major water policy announcement in Bonita Springs.

Many Southwest Florida residents will never forget the green slime that covered the water and all the dead fish that covered our beaches this summer, like Gary Dilaura.

“The air was burning their throats, and bothering their breathing,” Dilaura said.

Dilaura used to live on Fort Myers Beach, but after the red tide rolled in, he decided to move to the Fort Myers Marina.

“And, you know, we’re all seniors and we cherish the amount of air we can get,” Dilaura said. “We decided to get out of there, and we’re now off the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers.”

Now, according to Gov. DeSantis’ office, he will be making a statement on water policy tomorrow.

“The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Protecting it is the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do.”

This is one of the first policy issues Gov. DeSantis is attacking just days into his term.

“It’s comforting that someone is taking action to clean our waters up,” said Fort Myers Marina resident Adam Hernandez.

For Hernandez, the summer was rough.

“We had a lot of issues with the stench in the air, a lot of algae and red tide coming in,” Hernandez said.

Now, Hernandez says he is looking froward to what’s next.

“It will help the community a lot to know that there’s someone that will attack this issue that’s been going on for a long time,” Hernandez said.

While some, like Dilaura, are a little more skeptical.

“I’m not sure what the government is planning to do, or ir human beings can do anything about it,” Dilaura said.

Gov. DeSantis will be making his announcement at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Vester Marine and Environment Science Research Field Station at 5164 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs at 8:30 a.m. This announcement is not open to the public.

Reporter:John-Carlos Estrada
SHARE