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DeSantis, Rooney take action on water quality

January 16, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS (jmeadows@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

Florida's officials are already setting their sights on algae.

Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday in Bonita Springs to address the state's environmental crisis.

"I think the people of Florida wanted to see action, and this is action that was requested regardless of your party... I think this is something that can unite all Floridians," he said before signing Execu-tive Order 19-12, which aims to secure $2.5 billion over the next four years for the protection of water resources.

The order, titled "Achieving More Now For Florida's Environment," also established several new departments and one official position.

DeSantis announced that they will appoint a chief science officer.

"So we're doing sound science, making sure that we're getting ahead of the curve on as many of these issues as possible," he said.

The order also created the Office of Environmental Accountability and Trans-parency, the Office of Resiliency and Coastal Protection, and a Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

"This task force should support key funding and restoration initiatives to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the downstream estuaries," the order reads.

It also seeks to "update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting South Florida communities."

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said he's impressed to see the governor take action on this issue so quickly after being sworn in on Tuesday.

"The additional funding is extremely good for Lee County. Until we have the money to actually build the projects that need to be built, it's all talk. Putting the extra money to expedite construction of projects that will redirect the flow of water is probably the most significant part of the order that will help Lee County out," he said.

"The biggest project that I think is called out in the executive order that will benefit Lee County is the C-43 reservoir, and the fact that the executive order is asking for a water treatment component to be developed along with that."

C-43 is the Army Corps of Engineers' name for the Caloosahatchee River. The full name of the project is the Caloosa-hatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir. According to the South Florida Water Management web site, "The above ground Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir, located in Hendry County, will capture and store stormwater runoff from the C-43 basin and regulatory water releases from Lake Okeechobee, reducing lake discharges reaching the estuary."

The reservoir would store excess flows and allow them to be released at times that are more beneficial for the estuary.

"If we can keep that project funded, keep that project on track, and make sure the water that ultimately is released from that reservoir is clean, I think those are very important things that were at least contemplated in this executive order," he said.

"It's very important to understand that between now and next summer, they're not going to have any new projects that will be built. These projects are so massive... they're pieces of infrastructure that will take years to design, permit, and construct," Hamman said.

"There's no guarantee we will have algae next summer, but we need to plan for it and prepare for it like we will. We need to all be ready to handle it. So I was excited to see that in this Task Force they used the word 'now', that they're going to be thinking of ways to prepare for the next wet season's algae blooms."

Meanwhile,in Washington Wednes-day, Congressman Francis Rooney introduced an amendment to the Stafford Act that could do that.

The amendment to the act that governs disaster response would officially list algal blooms as a natural disaster, allowing FEMA to provide aid in the event of another major algae crisis.

"We must make every effort possible to mitigate harmful effects of red tide and toxic algae and we must also take the steps necessary to eliminate the root causes of these outbreaks our water quality. I will continue to fight for the resources we need to fix our water," Rooney said in a prepared statement.

 
 

 

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