By John Cassani
It was good to read that Governor Scott has taken an about face on environmental issues by making water quality one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session. However, a closer examination of the issue reveals a troubling pattern with promises to clean up pollution by Florida politicians.
Many of the recent commitments to prioritize water quality problems stem from the tidal wave of public sentiment toward the issue over the passage of Amendment 1 this past November, yielding millions from the sale of documentary tax sales for acquisition of land for conservation and related projects. Some have said that the problem needs to be near crisis before reform can happen and indeed this seems to be the case as pre-session proposals may indicate.
What is troubling with these new promises to change the pattern of widespread impairment of Florida’s waters is that the root causes are not being addressed. Instead politicians are proposing expensive public works projects to theoretically restore the state’s degraded waters. On the surface this sounds like the solution but the genuine political will to systemically change course seems questionable.
During the recent controversy surrounding the legal battle to have EPA set new standards for Florida water policy, politicians stated publicly that it was unnecessary because Florida already had some of the best regulations on water policy nationally. If that were the case how did Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries become so badly impaired?
The answer appears to be lack of political will at the hands of the special interests that don’t want environmental rules and regulations getting in the way. Where there is discretionary interpretation or implementation of those rules is where the problem starts. In south Florida this issue is a recurring theme.
For example, the Lake Okeechobee maximum load for phosphorus is a bit over 100 metric tons per year but more than four times that amount enters annually. The minimum flow (MFL) rule for the Caloosahatchee Estuary, adopted in 2001, has been violated the last seven consecutive years. Much of the Caloosahatchee watershed is a restricted allocation area because the river’s estuary is not recovering from serious harm of too little or too much water. Yet year in and year out the resource is starved for water and sacrificed for special interest consumption. As outlined in Florida Administrative Code, water use restrictions are to be used to prevent violations of the MFL rule but are rarely used.
Most of the tributaries to Estero Bay are designated Outstanding Florida Waters, requiring a higher level of protection, yet most are “officially” impaired. Enforceable cleanup plans (BMAPs), driven by Secretarial order are paper exercises where pollutant load reductions are compared to loading rates from more than a decade ago to exaggerate progress and an updated statewide stormwater rule was promised many years ago.
Confronted with these issues most politicians have been taught to blame the problem on sins of the past or not enough science because Florida has some of the best water policies in the nation.
Such excuses no longer hold water.
John Cassani is Chairman of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council and resides in Alva.