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Guest Column
Florida must invest in clean and fresh water to grow and prosper | Column
Florida must continue to make significant investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, specifically advanced wastewater treatment for nutrient removal, where water can be recycled efficiently.
Biologists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection conduct water quality testing in coastal seagrass habitat in St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in Citrus County.
Biologists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection conduct water quality testing in coastal seagrass habitat in St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in Citrus County. [ Charlie Shoemaker, Pew Charitable Trusts ]
Published Mar. 18

One of Ron DeSantis’ first actions as governor was signing Executive Order 19-12 “Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment.” Announcing the order, he stated, “The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state. That’s why today I’m taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities.”

Dominic M. Calabro
Dominic M. Calabro [ Provided ]

With record annual budget appropriations and transformative legislation, such as the Clean Waterways Act that addressed current Florida water woes, the DeSantis administration launched major water reforms to protect Florida’s water and natural resources. He pledged to spend $2.5 billion over four years to protect, restore and improve the quality for Florida’s water resources. Including the new budget, the leadership will exceed that goal.

Our collective goal, stemming from our respective organizations’ mission and DNA, is to ensure that funded projects for water quality improvements follow agency, legislative and statutory oversight and processes and the projects are implemented within the parameters of the sponsoring agency’s environmental programmatic guidelines and oversight.

Three of leadership’s mandates from the Clean Waterways Act are to improve our beleaguered water resources by funding improvements to the state’s aging and failing wastewater treatment infrastructure; funding improvements to our inundated and inadequate stormwater collection systems; and the appointment of the Blue Green Algae Task Force to recommend strategies and technologies to mitigate water quality decline and algae blooms that threaten Florida’s economy and quality of life.

Brandon D. Shuler
Brandon D. Shuler [ Provided ]

In the administration’s first three years of office, Florida has appropriated roughly $1 billion to water quality improvement projects, including funding $300 million to drinking water and wastewater facility construction loan programs. This $1.3 billion does not include Everglades restoration projects, nor the $525 million in federal covid relief support from the American Rescue Plan for the wastewater grant program that provided infrastructure investments to more than 100 projects adjacent to Florida’s impaired water bodies. Many of the funded projects address the state’s estimated $18.6 billion shortfall of needed wastewater infrastructure upgrades, as estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The governor’s dedication to solving the state’s water infrastructure shortfall has delivered on his ambitious promise to protect Florida’s water. Yet, while the governor pushes forward with an aggressive water agenda, the state continues to fall short. A recent American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 report card gave the state’s water infrastructure a mere “C.”

For a state that lauds itself as the fishing capital of the world and a growing population of nearly 900 new Floridians per day, we have to protect the value of Florida’s water and natural resources. We can accomplish this with ample, strategic and appropriate infrastructure investment.

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Florida must continue to make significant investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, specifically advanced wastewater treatment for nutrient removal, where water can be recycled efficiently to augment existing supply, including potable water needs for a growing population. Recycling and resupply to our surface waters and aquifers provide the added value of mitigating saltwater intrusion into shallow and deep aquifers and importantly reducing nutrient loads from wastewater and stormwater effluents will improve water quality, reduce algal blooms, and improve aquatic habitats and fisheries.

Continued investments to improve Florida’s water supply and quality will secure the value of our economy and quality of life. Although leadership has made historic levels of investment in Florida’s water infrastructure, record level funding is necessary to continue supporting billions of dollars in water projects needed for Everglades restoration and wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water infrastructure projects.

More importantly, as the state appropriates funding for water infrastructure projects, it is imperative that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services remain active in the appropriations review process. For water projects, oversight by these agencies will ensure that what is meant to protect our waters actually protects the state’s water resources while preserving the economic health and integrity of our agricultural, water-based, and land-based industries. Much of the state’s water funding is distributed through member project requests without a formal, competitive process with statutory criteria, a statewide vision, and input from experts. Florida TaxWatch has long recommended that such a process be created.

We urge the leadership to continue commonsense appropriations to critical water infrastructure. We urge the appropriate agencies to follow process and science to wisely invest taxpayers money. And it is our greatest desire that we appropriate and invest with an eye to maintaining and protecting the state’s water-based identity and culture.

Dominic M. Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. Brandon D. Shuler is executive director of the American Water Security Project.

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