Water Quality and the Environment

“With the possible exception of the Civil War, the single most dire threat to a secure Florida future for any generation in the 173- year history of the Sunshine State is now upon us.” 

That’s how Roger Williams of Florida Weekly characterized our current state of environmental affairs in Florida in an August, 2018 article.  He went on to say,

“We’re on the verge of an ecosystem collapse our young children will inherit.”

That commentary appropriately underscores the priority that our governor, state legislators, and we the public should be giving to environmental stewardship in Florida, particularly in south Florida.

We cannot underestimate the environmental, economic, and public health crisis we are seeing today.  We have seen organisms from every trophic level, every level of the food chain, wash up in great numbers along our beaches.  Businesses are suffering; tourists are canceling their plans; people are experiencing serious health effects.  This disaster has been years in the making, but it did not have to be this way.

algae bloomThe political appointments of unqualified people to the governing boards of our water management districts, the loosening of environmental laws, and the increased inputs of nutrients (pollution) have continued despite ample warnings from scientists that our water quality and ecosystem (and therefore economic) health is at risk.  The environmentally irresponsible policies of Gov. Rick Scott and the complicit legislators we continue to send to Tallahassee have put the short-term interests of influential donors ahead of the long-term welfare of Florida citizens and the long-term viability of our state economy.  The result is the environmental and economic disaster we’re witnessing now in south Florida—explosive red tides and toxic blue-green algae, pollution of our water aquifers, as well as salt water intrusion into our aquifers.

This is why I am running for Florida Senate District 28. As an ecologist, I know what needs to be done to prevent the further destruction of our environment and, as a consequence, our economy.  We need to prioritize the rebuilding of the north-south water flow into the Everglades; we need to significantly reduce the pollutants (nutrient levels) in that water; we need to take strong measures to protect our fresh water aquifers; we need to depoliticize and rebuild our state’s water management districts; we must prepare now for the impacts of rising sea levels and a changing climate. It’s time for a change in Tallahassee.  I will not be tainted by the corrupting influence of money in politics because I know that the future of our state is at stake.  My hands will not be tied by the influence of special interest money in my endeavors because my campaign is not accepting special interest money.

The pollution threat to our water system is by no means a new problem.  But as Roger Williams also observed, for the last 50 years Florida leaders have generally worked collaboratively to “…put in place regulations that managed growth, reduced pollution, and sought to avoid the crisis that now confronts us… that bipartisan tendency changed in 2010 … Republicans led by Gov. Rick Scott … have allowed most of the current catastrophe by willfully avoiding opportunities to head it off.”

Scott and his legislature reversed course on what had been an exemplary and much needed land buying program for Everglades protection and restoration; they gutted personnel and funding of state environmental oversight and enforcement offices and supported legislative and administrative efforts that resulted in increased nutrient pollution of our water systems.

In 2014, the South Florida Water Management District was about to crack down on agricultural pollution by holding polluters accountable.  Then, after meeting with a U.S. Sugar Corporation lobbyist, they adopted a policy that takes polluters at their word and holds no one accountable if water quality suffers. They let a sugar lobbyist dictate edits to a 2015 annual report that led to weaker regulations.  This corruption must stop.  We, the taxpayers, suffer every time these backroom deals are made.

By 2015, Florida ranked second in the nation for the number of people impacted by violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act and here we are in 2018 facing the worst environmental crisis in south Florida’s history.  This year’s devastating algae bloom is the ninth one since 2004, with serious episodes also occurring as recently as 2016 and the ‘toxic summer’ of 2013.  We’ve been warned. It’s time to act!

My opponent, Kathleen Passidomo, supported all of Rick Scott’s rollbacks of environmental protections, and has voted for numerous pieces of environmentally unfriendly legislation.   She attempted, but failed so far, to remove local governmental authorities to ban fracking; she voted in favor of the law that repealed the requirement for periodic septic system inspections; just this year, she supported the unsuccessful “Toilet To Tap Dirty Water Bill” which would have allowed inadequately treated sewage water to be pumped into our aquifer. Now, in an election year, Passidomo wants to take credit for cutting taxes and regulations, many of those cuts due to the gutting of Florida’s environmental programs.  These are NOT the kind of tax and regulatory cuts we need.

Though a bit late to the game, in 2017 and 2018 the Scott administration and legislature finally agreed to increase funding and priority for the Lake Okeechobee Herbert Hoover Dike repair and for the proposed reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. They provided a third ($100M) of the historical amount for the Florida Forever land conservation program (historically funded at $300 million per year prior to the Rick Scott administration).  These are steps in the right direction, but do not address the core problems confronting us: 1) the corrupting influence of special interests, and 2) the rising level of nutrients and other pollutants in our surface and subsurface fresh water supplies.

Let’s be clear: the STATE is responsible for water quality standards. We need legislators who will make the environment and water quality job #1, because all other priorities (economy, jobs, health, the safety and well-being of our constituents) directly depend on a healthy and habitable environment.  We need to:

  • Take a comprehensive and collaborative approach to our environmental challenges, one that addresses all sources of pollution and other threats to our water systems and one that promotes innovative solutions.
  • Enact effective, environmental protections where needed, to include a fracking ban and reinstatement of septic system inspection requirements;
  • Restore effective management, oversight, and enforcement of our environmental regulations.
  • Fully fund the Harmful Algal Bloom task force (per statute 379.2271) to monitor physical, chemical, biological, economic, and public health factors affecting harmful algal blooms in Florida; and, develop recommendations that can be implemented by state and local governments to develop a response plan and to predict, mitigate, and control the effects of harmful algal blooms.

In Florida, the environment is the basis of our economy and our quality of life.  Sending the same people back to Tallahassee to once again work for their special interest donors does not make sense. It’s time for a change in Tallahassee. It’s time to elect a scientist – vote for Annisa Karim for Senate!