Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order for policy reforms and funding to protect the state’s water quality and natural resources.
“The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state,” Gov. DeSantis said at a press conference Jan. 10 in Bonita Springs, where he announced the water policy reforms. “That’s why today I’m taking immediate action to combat the threats that have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities.”
The order calls for $2.5 billion – the highest amount in Florida’s history, according to a press release – to be spent over four years on Everglades restoration and protection of water resources. It instructs the South Florida Water Management District to start the next phase of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir – a project designed to send clean water south to the Everglades and to reduce overflow from Lake Okeechobee – and to expedite other Everglades projects, such as creating treatment wetlands to raise water quality standards.
The order also establishes a task force to address blue-green algae blooms and extends an emergency grant to address red tide cleanup. The task force is instructed to work in conjunction with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to study the causes and impacts of red tide, including its impacts on air quality and human health.
The state’s departments of environmental protection (DEP), health (DOH) and economic opportunity (DEO), as well as Visit Florida, are directed to work together on initiatives to preserve natural resources and raise water quality standards. This includes sharing data and technical expertise, conducting collaborative research, and partnering on community outreach and education statewide to encourage conservation and reuse efforts in homes and businesses. The agencies have also been instructed to work with universities, local governments and water management districts to identify and develop viable alternative water supply sources.
The governor’s new policy directs DEP to create an office of accountability and appoint a chief science officer to monitor research and ensure that the agency’s actions align with environmental priorities. According to the order, the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Unit has been moved from FWC to DEP to “ensure strong enforcement of Florida’s environmental laws.”
The order also creates a DEP office to prepare coastal communities to deal with the impacts of rising sea levels, and directs the DEP to take whatever actions necessary to “adamantly oppose” all offshore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida, as well as hydraulic fracturing in the state.