Paging Florida’s Green Governor

Halfway through the first term of Gov. Ron DeSantis, it’s time to take an honest look at progress from the self-proclaimed “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.”

We’ve seen a lot of fanfare celebrating the 2-year anniversary of DeSantis’ executive order calling for the advancement of water quality and Everglades restoration. But how much better off are we?

Hailed by some as a massive accomplishment, the 2020 passage of a bill supported by DeSantis called the “Clean Waterways Act” failed to enforce real and lasting change based on the specific, science-based recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. The trouble is, it doesn’t hold Florida’s greatest polluters to clearly enforceable pollution standards.

It’s no secret that agricultural pollution is the largest contributor of nutrients that feed algae booms. The toxic red tide and pungent mats of blue-green algae that plague South Florida are a sure sign that the state’s voluntary programs aren’t working. The Blue Green Algae Task Force — which DeSantis created — acknowledged this, calling for an end to the presumption of compliance in favor of verified data of best management practices (BMPs) to increase enforcement. The recommendation was ignored.

Early on in his campaign, DeSantis expressed support for moving water quality regulations from the agriculture department to the environmental protection department. That enforcement didn’t make it past a vague campaign promise. As it stands, the Clean Waterways Act redefined BMP compliance as self reported. Every two years, farms are allegedly subjected to a verification check by FDACS, but don’t ask them where those records are. The current system seems so lax that a citrus trade magazine essentially told its audience “hurry up and tell FDACS you’ll try BMPs or else risk the heavier hand of DEP enforcement.” God forbid!

So what’s all this mean for communities downstream of Florida’s liquid heart? Lake Okeechobee is currently too high for comfort this time of year, and — thanks to weak legislation that ultimately defends the right to pollute — it remains just as polluted as ever. In the northern estuaries, that means the Army Corps of Engineers is already talking about the chance of renewed lake discharges before summer rains. Despite this ongoing threat, the Clean Waterways Act also neglected to include a valuable task force recommendation that called on DEP to create health advisories and defensible water quality criteria that could be supported by science and monitoring and updated as necessary.

The 2019 creation of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force was a high note in DeSantis’ tenure. Its solid recommendations have a real chance to put Florida on a track that might finally solve our water crisis. But establishing this task force, and then not acting on its good advice, doesn’t make any sense. Incrementalism isn’t working. Voters will remember this lack of bold action when DeSantis is on the ballot in 2022 — particularly if we have another green-slime summer.

We need your help.

Our partners at Friends of the Everglades made it easy for you to send a pre-formatted email to Gov. DeSantis and DEP Secretary Valenstein, calling on them to take action on the Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations. They need to hear from you. Help safeguard the future of Florida by adding your name.