Florida's got a new "water czar," agriculture commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced Wednesday.
Chris Pettit, who has worked for years in water management districts and county water utilities, will replace Steve Dwinell, who retired as water policy director for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
Fried said Pettit and his office will work to develop and implement best management practices, known as BMPs, for agriculture. BMPs, which have been criticized in the past for not being enforced, aim at lowering and maintaining nutrient runoff from farming operations. The nutrient runoff is a key source in the development of the red tide and blue-green algae that choked Florida's coasts and waterways last summer.
Fried said she is still seeking money for BMP implementation. This year she requested $25 million in the budget to help Florida farmers implement water efficiency improvements and reduce nutrient usage, but only received $4 million — a $1 million reduction from last year's budget.
"Addressing our state's water issues was one of my top priorities when I was running for office," Fried said during a press conference at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. "Today's appointment is an important step in achieving that goal. Cleaning up our water and keeping it clean for generations to come involves real comprehensive solutions to our water problems."
She said Pettit's new role will involve building partnerships to the state's agriculture and environmental community to build a "path forward" to a cleaner Florida.
"Chris and I have a shared approach of really bringing everybody together, listening and finding common ground," she said.
Pettit said he hopes to move past any "divisiveness" in the communities, which have blamed one another for last summer's outbreak.
“We share a vision, finding common ground between agricultural, environmental and urban communities in pursuit of healthy ecosystem and watersheds,” he said. “My responsibility is to ... bring stakeholders together and tackle these difficult issues.”