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Clean water as a force for the future in Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Tampa Tribune, insisting that he's committed to a "healthy environment." That's good to know. On the evidence of his first 11 months in office, a lot of us got the distinct impression that all he cared about was making rich folks richer.

Perhaps it has dawned on the governor that the widely disseminated images of rivers and lakes blanketed in green slime do not exactly beckon more tourists to our shores. Perhaps he's noticed that it's not exactly good for the economy when a water treatment plant shuts down due to toxic algae (as happened at the Olga facility in 2008) or when property values in St. Lucie County sink by half a billion dollars because the once-pristine water bodies people like to build their houses on are so polluted that they stink. Perhaps somebody in his administration has finally figured out nobody wants to move to a place where agri-corps dump manure and other unedifying wastes into every available water body, tainting our drinking water.

Not just another day in paradise, is it?

The governor says he understands that Florida jobs and Florida's environmental quality are inseparable. Nobody's going to argue with that. The thing is, we need to see some action, some evidence that he really does get it. Along with the Cabinet and the legislative leadership, he's fought against scientifically measurable numeric standards for our waters. Scott says Florida knows "more about our water bodies than any federal agency." True: That's why the Environmental Protection Agency used Florida's Department of Environmental Protection data to craft the water quality standards which have caused such hissy fits amongst the big polluters at Associated Industries and their fellow travelers in the state Legislature. Like the governor, they all say they love clean water. Yet they behave as if their livelihoods depend on dirtying it.

Legislators went wild this past session, slashing $20 million from Everglades restoration, hamstringing the Water Management Districts' ability to protect regional drinking water, dumping Florida Forever — the nationally lauded program to acquire conservation lands for the citizens — and eviscerating the Department of Community Affairs, the state agency which tried to protect Floridians from rapacious and destructive development. That was a revenge killing: developers had long seethed over DCA's ability to scupper building a strip mall on sensitive wetlands, a marina in a state sea grass preserve, or a gated community out where there are no roads, no electricity, or no sewer. Now there's nothing to stop them — and you, the taxpayer, will foot the bill.

The radical profiteers, the drain-it-and-pave-it lobby, are back in charge of the Legislature. But perhaps the governor is no longer in lock-step with them. After all, clean air, clean water and good habitat shouldn't be partisan issues. Nathaniel Reed, Florida's greatest environmentalist, the man who saved the Everglades from becoming an international airport in the 1960s, is a Republican. He has joined forces with a noted Democrat, former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, plus dozens of other Floridians, who know that the state is in crisis. They've come together to form the Florida Conservation Coalition (www.floridaconservationcoalition.org), an organization dedicated to save us from ourselves. Check them out.

And let's hope Gov. Scott is listening. Let's hope he's learning. Water — Florida's essential element — is imperiled as never before. Our rivers are sick, our lakes choking, our springs cloudy. They aren't just landscape decoration or "recreational resources": this is our drinking water. This is Florida's life.

Diane Roberts is author of Dream State, a historical memoir of Florida. She teaches at Florida State University.

Clean water as a force for the future in Florida 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 3:30am]

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