Florida is faced with a myriad of issues, many centered around water; issues ranging from red tides and algae blooms, to marine mortality and the inability to fish or swim. On January 21, six groups came together in the first Florida Water Policy Summit to discuss policy solutions to address the state’s compromised waters.
According to John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper, “Not a single resident in Florida lives more than 20 miles from an impaired waterway.” 12 million acres of water are currently served by Best Management Action Plans (BMAPs) which are plans implemented over the course of 15 years, mandated by the federal government for waterways that do not meet established specifications. The poor water quality is a result of “a combination of harmful agricultural run-off, insufficient urban stormwater treatment, and fertilizer use [creating] a cocktail of toxic water.” Maria Carrozzo, senior environmental policy specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, suggests that several policy changes can aid the situation, such as revisiting the standards for stormwater run-off, establishing more robust fertilizer regulations, and implementing a system of checks for farmers who sign a notice promising to implement best management practices, which currently operates under a policy of “presumptive compliance.”
Several speakers at the Summit addressed issues facing Lake Okeechobee, both the regulation schedule and minimum flow levels. The Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) was established in 2008 by The Army Corps of Engineers and was intended as an interim measure until repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dam are completed in 2022. However, in addressing the schedule, Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, stated that, “the LORS didn’t consider cyanobacteria and red tide, claiming it was unlikely that discharges from the lake caused harmful algal blooms, and didn’t analyze them any further.” Unfortunately, they are causing harm and Lopez encouraged attendees at the summit to press for the dam’s completion in June 2020 which would allow for an earlier start date for addressing the lake’s issues.
The Summit was the most recent gathering in a series of community meetings and Town Halls focusing on the water issues facing the state and the corresponding economic ramifications. Those involved indicated that the incoming Governor and his administration appear to be focused on the issue but encouraged ongoing advocacy to help guide policy decisions moving forward.
Photo Credit: Kathy, Flickr