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Water issues make the rounds

David Guest
David Guest

By Sascha Cordner


Tallahassee, FL – Environmental groups, Florida lawmakers, and even a former Governor held several different events this week to discuss the protection of Florida's environment. As Sascha Cordner reports, most challenged Governor Rick Scott to do what they say is right for Florida's water resources.

Environmentalists are once again turning to the courts in hopes of getting the state to fix its water pollution issues. Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the state with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings Thursday.

EarthJustice Attorney David Guest says what Florida needs is tougher federal water quality standards, not the state's current "watered down" version of a water pollution rule.

"It's evident from the text, the purpose and the quality of this rule that it was drafted by and for, the interests of industrial polluters."

St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon showed pictures of the St. Johns River in 2005 and 2009 to show just how sick the river has become. He says it's just one example out of many in Florida. He later called on the Governor to step up:

"If he's [Scott] so concerned about the economies of Florida, then he should come to the St. John's River because when the River looks green and toxic and unhealthy, it's not just an environmental impact, it's an economic impact, the crabbers who make their living in the river suffer, boat dealers suffer, communities across this state are suffering from water quality problems."

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection contends the state is better suited to set rules for Florida than the federal government, and it would also be less expensive. So far, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has given the state's proposal tentative approval. But, EarthJustice Attorney David Guest says if the EPA signs off on the state's drafted water standards, the groups may consider suing the federal government as well.

Despite the lawsuit, Florida's DEP was seen in a more positive light Tuesday when it helped to unveil a new collaborative effort with landowners to increase water storage and improve water quality, all at a cost savings. The project was spearheaded by the South Florida Water Management District. Its Executive Director Melissa Meeker says it's a win-win for everyone and exactly the type of public-private partnerships that Governor Scott talks about:

"When you look at the amount of land we have in the state that has been altered and been drained, any opportunity that we have to work with landowners or work on our own land to store that water that was originally there back on the land is a huge benefit to the state of Florida. And our goal, north of Lake Okeechobee, is to increase storage by upwards of a million acre feet."

There's one big reason management districts are looking into cost-saving efforts, like this one. That's because the Legislature and the Governor cut more than 700-million dollars in funding for all the water management districts in Florida this year. So, a group of environmentalists, a lawmaker, and even former Democratic U-S Senator and Governor Bob Graham announced restoring those funds as one of the main goals for their newly formed group called the Florida Conservation Coalition.

On the steps of the old Capitol, Graham talked to a crowd about calling upon both the Governor and the Legislature to make the protection of Florida's water resources a big priority this session:

"So, Governor we call on you with our thanks and appreciation for the statements that you have made to now lead! We need strong gubernatorial leadership to reverse the damage that has been done and to avoid future damage. Governor Scott, the Florida Conservation Coalition is ready to join your army and I'm sure there are thousands of Floridians who are willing to volunteer."

Another member of Graham's new coalition, Republican Conservationist and Chairman Emeritus of the 1000 Friends of Florida Nat Reed rallied the crowd of about sixty people with signs:

"Governor Graham held committee meeting after committee meeting, bringing together the brightest and the best in Florida, and we passed the best comprehensive act in the nation, and it's been eviscerated and it's a disgrace by the state of Florida. And, it's unforgiveable it's unforgivable and we're going to get it back and we're going to raise holy cane!"

The goals of the non-partisan Florida Conservation Coalition also include restoring funds to Florida Forever, which helps with water resource protection, as well as reaffirming Florida's commitment to the Everglades.

Recently, a bi-partisan Everglades Caucus also sprang up under the leadership of Democratic Representative Steve Perman of Boca Raton and Republican Senator Thad Altman of Melbourne.

"One of the things that got us involved with the Everglades is the negative impacts of the water quality going into Florida Bay, not to mention the needs for fresh waters, saving that natural resource and what it provides economically. The Everglades are important to Florida. It represents preserving one of the most basic things in what it means to be a Floridian. And, we must, we must do it."

A spokesman for the Governor says Scott understands the link between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. And, he's already in talks with Washington to develop a plan to restore the Everglades.