TCPalm gets it: As Florida waters go downhill, lawmakers avoid the tough choices

As they usually do, the folks at TCPalm get it right in an editorial, this one dated May 6, titled “Manatee deaths, algal blooms suggest Florida’s waters getting worse, not better”:

When will legislators address the widespread problems facing Florida’s waters? Will protecting the state’s fragile waters ever be taken seriously by those in Tallahassee? 

I think they’ve scheduled it for the 12th – the 12th of Never.

The editorial followed on the heels of an April 20 news story asking members of the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force how Florida was faring in term of “adopting the scientists’ solutions to curb and clean up water pollution that ignites toxic blooms.”

The scientists gave the Legislature a grade of “C.”

The Legislature hasn’t fully adopted several of the task force’s science-based initiatives, such as cracking down on polluters, increasing water testing around pollution hotspots, and revamping the state’s flagship pollution-reduction program called Basin Management Action Plans, which a TCPalm investigation revealed isn’t working. 

To be sure, the Legislature adopted some of the task force’s recommendations, but this was a matter of grabbing the low-hanging fruit.

“Cracking down on polluters,” by contrast, involves levying punitive action, even penalties, against politically powerful constituencies – like agriculture. Indeed, even implementing definitive testing around hot spots goes against the prevailing ethos in Florida, where ag producers enrolled in “Best Management Practices” receive the “presumption of compliance” – meaning, we won’t test, we’ll just assume you’re hitting your pollution targets.

Testing means identifying those who aren’t hitting those pollution targets, and doing something about it. Which won’t go over well with those politically connected constituencies – and that’s why we don’t hear a lot about it out of Tallahassee.

To be sure, it’s not just agriculture. Where aging infrastructure – municipal sewage systems, or even individual septic systems – contribute to the problem, the cost of the fix falls on taxpayers – who are also, of course, a politically powerful constituency.

From the April 20 news story:

The Legislature has not made some of the task force’s recommendations enforceable law, such as requiring periodic inspections of sewage treatment and disposal systems. 

Task force members blamed these roadblocks: lack of political will; hesitance to approve expensive measures; and the complexity of interconnected waterways that people value for different reasons….


Task force members acknowledged that solutions are expensive and could take years to implement, but said problems will worsen over time. Water pollution from farm fertilizers, for example, “are expected to be exacerbated” by regional land-use changes and increased rainfall and higher temperatures driven by climate change. 

The longer we wait to tackle the hard solutions – the harder the solution becomes.

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