Protecting Florida’s Waters

This editorial by former Florida Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham,and Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine highlight the Florida Conservation Coalition’s water policy initiatives for Florida.  Lee Future believes all these points apply to Lee County’s problems and lack of proactive programs.

Article was originally published in the
Orlando Sentinel on March 1, 2019

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters.

Prevent pollution at its source. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Preventing pollution at its source is the most environmentally sound and cost-effective way to meet water quality goals. We have proposed common sense solutions to prevent pollution from wastewater, agriculture, biosolids, and stormwater, among other sources, in at-risk watersheds.

Aggressively reduce existing sources of pollution. Since the vast majority of Florida’s waters are already impaired by nutrients, it is not enough to just slow the growth of pollution; we must reverse the trend. Adopting a stronger state model fertilizer ordinance, requiring effective best management practices, upgrading wastewater utilities, and replacing or upgrading septic tanks in areas already impaired by excessive nutrient pollution will be an expensive but necessary undertaking if we hope to restore impaired waters.

Protect land to protect water. What happens on Florida’s land determines the state of its waters. Florida needs to immediately acquire lands in sensitive areas, minimize urban sprawl and require efficient landscaping in new developments. The Legislature should pass a law that provides significant annual funding to acquire critical natural areas and conserve working farms and ranches.

Secure Florida’s Future Water Supply: Public investments in water supply focus on engineering solutions to expand valuable water resources, missing opportunities to reduce demand through conservation efforts. Government programs should prioritize and incentivize water conservation measures as the first means to address Florida’s water supply challenges. Additionally, Florida’s water management districts must do a better job of accounting for the interests of the environment and public in making water use permitting decisions.

Provide adequate funding for Florida’s comprehensive water policy. For decades, efforts to protect and restore Florida’s waters have been significantly underfunded. Compared to other important state priorities, like transportation, which receives nearly $11 billion in funding each year, funding for the management and protection of our water resources is sorely lacking. Although a true cost has not yet been determined, estimates suggest funding for Florida’s water quality compliance and infrastructure needs to be a minimum of $1-2 billion per year. Traditional funding sources, like water management district ad valorem tax rates, will need to be restored and new funding sources, such as a water withdrawal fee, will need to be identified if we are going to save Florida’s waters.

As the 2019 legislative session begins in Tallahassee, we are hopeful that our governor and legislators understand that Florida cannot afford another year, much less decades to come, of the environmental and economic disasters that have become commonplace across Florida. As former state legislators, we know the importance of public input in the legislative process. We encourage you to contact your local state senator and state representative and tell them about the rivers, lakes, springs, beaches and estuaries in your community, and why statewide water protections matter to you.

But first, visit and read “A Water Policy for Florida” (a ten-page document including a one-page summary) to arm yourself with the facts and information necessary to make a difference.

Bob Graham is a former Florida governor and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and a former state senator and state representative.

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