Column: On land and water, voice of voters ignored

Kayakers paddle through heavy fog in the the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area, which is part of a vast ecosystem that begins hundreds of miles away in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.
Published Mar. 28, 2015

If you were one of the more than 4 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment to the Florida Constitution, you probably thought the Legislature would carry out the will of the people. You probably thought legislators would hear the loud and clear message that our water and land are suffering, and heed the mandate to invest in environmental land and water protection.

Think again.

The Legislature has no such intentions and could not care less that 75 percent of the electorate voted "yes" on Amendment 1, expecting the funds (more than $700 million in 2015-16) to be used primarily for environmental land purchases and protection of our natural waters — springs, rivers and floodplains, and the Everglades. They propose to spend little or no money to purchase environmental land — the main intent of the amendment — and big money on items such as employee salaries and infrastructure.

Let's ask the House of Representatives and Senate if they know or care that in 2010, of the waters assessed in the state, 80 percent of the rivers and streams, 90 percent of the lakes and ponds, and 97 percent of the bays and estuaries were impaired. Or as of 2013, Florida had 133 endangered and threatened species of animals, and as of 2003, 534 endangered and threatened species of plants.

Remind them that 1,200 square miles of agricultural and natural land was swallowed up by urban sprawl between 2000 and 2010. Ask them how our water and land resources will fare over the next several years in the face of dramatic population growth when the state's population climbs from its current estimated population of 19.9 million to more than 23 million in 2030.

Yet legislators say that the state doesn't need any more land; we've got enough. That's saying we have no use for any more land protecting our waters, wildlife and natural areas. That's saying we have no need for any land all along the Apalachicola River, or the Wekiva/Ocala Greenway, Green Swamp and Peace River Headwaters, Fisheating Creek or North Key Largo Hammocks, to mention only a few.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and seems to be dominating the discussion; he says that the state owns enough land already. Let's hope that more informed legislators step up and do what Amendment 1 intended and protect the state's natural resources.

Legislators should to go to their respective districts throughout the state, hold town hall meetings and those who agree with Sen. Hays should tell the people that the Florida doesn't need any more land — that they know best how to protect our water, wildlife and natural areas.

When they hear the people's response, then they just might start paying attention.

Estus Whitfield, who lives in Tallahassee, was the principal environmental adviser to four Florida governors, 1980-99. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.