Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to propose sweeping legislation meant to address Florida's water woes in a press conference Wednesday outside a Jupiter sewage plant.
The proposals largely follow the recommendations of a panel of scientists DeSantis appointed in April - a sharp departure from his predecessor Rick Scott, who refused to meet with scientists. DeSantis said the broad measures will be aimed at the state’s biggest sources of pollution: farms, aging wastewater treatment plants, stormwater and treated human waste used as fertilizer.
“The more we can do to get ahead of the stuff I think the better off we’re going to be in Florida,” DeSantis said.
Last week, the Blue Green Algae Task Force, which DeSantis formed just five months ago, completed a quick list of recommendations to be used in the legislative session that begins in January.
DeSantis asked the task force to address spiralling pollution problems that have regularly fouled the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers with blue green algae and worsened pollution around springs. The task force held seven meetings around the state, hearing presentations on issues before spending the last two meetings drafting recommendations - a pace some critics felt shortchanged some issues.
But task force chair Tom Frazer said the group wanted to get recommendations done in time for the session and promised the panel would continue to meet.
The task force suggested beefing up plans that govern watersheds, putting more enforcement in contracts farmers sign with the state to control pollution and tightening regulations around stormwater and wastewater systems.
“We've seen the consequences of sewage being thrown into places like down in Miami, like in the Tampa Bay area,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “This is not something that's acceptable. “
Among the proposals:
* Department of Environmental Enforcement regulations that require utilities to develop inspection, maintenance and replacement plans for aging wastewater systems.
*Limiting where treated human waste can be used as fertilizers.
* Moving septic tank inspections from the state health department to environmental regulators who will also require management plans for watersheds to include remediation goals for leaky tanks.
* Require inspections on farms every two years to ensure farmers are following pollution plans.
* Require DEP to adopt rules for stormwater management in an effort to reduce environmental harm in places like Biscayne Bay, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says conditions have triggered a regime shift from clear waters and seagrass meadows to darker water and seaweed.
DeSantis was joined by Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. But other environmental groups warned that more could be done particularly in addressing health threats from toxic algae blooms.
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the state needs to quickly adopt standards for limiting harmful algae in water and speed up efforts to clean up pollution in Lake Okeechobee. The state also needs to investigate pollution from phosphate mines, she said.
Environmentalists also want a better warning system to protect residents and visitors.
“Twenty-two states have harmful algal-bloom-warning statutes” Bullsugar.org communications director Allie Preston said in a statement. “But not Florida.”