FL Legislature: Bending over backwards to allow even more pollution into the public’s waters

You have no idea how negligent Florida leaders are in protecting the state’s water quality.

A recent article says that “Florida Tops the List for the Most Polluted Lakes in the United States. That is bad and probably a bunch of elected and appointed officials deserve to be “water” boarded with this polluted water for allowing such extreme degradation to occur to it. Their deep dark excuse is that they thought that you wouldn’t notice and they were right until recently.

We learned from Environmental Integrity Project The Clean Water Act at 50: Promises Half Kept at the Half Century Mark, that Florida ranks first in the US for the total acres of lakes classified as impaired for swimming and aquatic life, and second for the total lake acres listed as impaired for any use. As well that we have the second most total square miles of impaired estuaries (2,533 square miles), behind only Louisiana, which is impacted by the fossil fuel industry.

These numbers may seem abstract to you, but in May 2021, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that nearly two-thirds of Lake Okeechobee, a 730 square miles freshwater body was blanketed in blue-green algae.

This is shocking in that Lake Okeechobee is a Class I Potable Water Supply waterbody. The water is supposed to be drinkable, but it is so bad you shouldn’t even swim in it or breathe it.

FWC biologists conduct necropsy on manatee that starved to death. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

These polluted waters are released to both the east and west coasts of Florida under certain conditions polluting coastal estuaries. Waters in Indian River Lagoon, one of the receiving estuaries from Lake Okeechobee, are so polluted that it has killed the seagrass which manatees eat and a record number died last year. They starved to death which is not a pleasant way to exit this world.

The Florida Constitution says that we should protect our natural resources, which includes the waters of the state. Article II, Section 7(a) reads that, It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty.

Florida law says in Chapter 403.021 that it is the policy of the state, to conserve the waters of the state to protect, maintain and improve the quality of public water supplies for the propagation of wildlife and fish and other aquatic life for beneficial uses and to provide that no wastes be discharged into any waters of the state without first being given the degree of treatment necessary to protect the beneficial uses of such water.

Seems like the constitution and the law are pretty clear, so why are Florida waters so bad?

The answer is complex, but there are two main reasons: The first is agriculture and the long-term free ride that it has gotten under the US Clean Water Act and state law. Law professor, JB Ruhl, at the University of Vanderbilt, said in a May 2000 article, “Farms are one of the last uncharted frontiers of environmental regulation in the US Despite the substantial environmental harms they cause …environmental law has given them a virtual license to do so.” To read his entire article, check out https://ssrn.com/abstract=186848.

The second reason is that Florida’s growth has been built with septic tanks which do a lousy job of removing nutrients in our karst topography. We have known this for decades and scientists have tested to this before the Florida Legislature, but yet we keep allowing them to be built and act like if they are properly maintained everything will be OK. Wrong. WRONG!

Growth has been cheap in this state for developers, but costly for the environment. We haven’t built expensive advanced waste treatment plants (AWTs) to keep the cost of growth down, and agriculture has pretty much used public waters for water quality treatment to keep their production costs down.

Unbelievably, the Florida Legislature just passed yet another bill that allows agriculture to pollute more. It is SB 1000 and HB 1291, on nutrient application rates which grant the citrus industry a presumption of compliance with water quality standards for whatever fertilizer application rate a “Certified Crop Advisor” (CCA) advises. If signed into law, this method can be expanded to other crops starting in 2023 and it is not the only bill for agriculture passed by the legislature this session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (left), and Senate President Wilton Simpson (right), on last day of session. March 14, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Politicians don’t listen to scientists or deal with inconvenient facts that contradict their reality or interfere with their political contributions. It is all about freedom these days. Well guess what? All this freedom looks more like a “free-for-all” in the Florida Legislature and in the executive branch, and it is not “free” for Florida’s environment or its citizens.

What is happening is criminal.

It is an intentional neglect of legal responsibilities that has been spread out over many years and is shared by lots of elected and appointed officials. It also is an abuse of power by the Florida Legislature, which seems to be bending over backwards to allow even more pollution into the public’s waters. They get away with this because they think you won’t notice, but it is hard to not notice when your waters are covered with a carpet of stinky green algae, or one ton bloated dead mammals float upside down to your dock.

What they are doing to our state is wrong.

Our elected officials are not working for you or me because if they were, they would listen to the scientists and they would act like responsible adults. They would regulate agriculture like other industries; they would ban the use of septic tanks, and they would fund and build advanced waste treatment plants.

These steps would be a big step forward in helping us restore Florida’s waters, and yes, they would be expensive.

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