This editorial’s recommendations on water board replacements are very good. Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch (whom we predict will one day have DeSantis’ job) should be put on the SFWMD, as Mast recommends, and Miklos should be fired immediately from the SJRWMD, without given time to clear his desk.
All the water management boards should be overhauled to correct the wreckage left by destructionist Scott, with true environmentalist representatives installed on each, getting rid of a number of developers and agricultural interests.
A true environmentalist is someone who has actively worked to improve the environment, not just some farmer who says he cares for the land but heaps fertilizer on it, sprays poisons on it, and pulls huge amounts of water out of it.
Our concerns persist that DeSantis will overlook the equally serious water problems of over-pumping and over-fertilizing statewide, not just the highly visible red tide and algae issues. This other-wise excellent editorial does not mention this.
Read the original article here in the Orlando Sentinel.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
A to-do list for Gov. Ron DeSantis on the environment | Editorial
As a member of Congress, Ron DeSantis opposed price supports for sugar. And as a candidate for governor, he emphasized water quality and said, “I don’t want to wait 15 more years” for action.
If you knew only these positions, you might think Ron DeSantis is a Democrat. But DeSantis is a Republican who ran away from the lousy environmental records of fellow Republicans Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who hoped to succeed Scott. Like the outgoing governor, Putnam was joined at the hip with the sugar industry, one of Florida’s biggest polluters.
Though GOP governors Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush proved they cared about the environment, DeSantis took office Tuesday with a chance to be the most pro-environment Republican governor in 50 years. That was Claude Kirk, who became the first chief executive to hire an adviser on the environment.
DeSantis says he wants to make environmental issues a priority.
Great. He can start by reshaping Florida’s water management boards and appointing at least a few people who believe in science and the public’s right to know.
Consider what happened on Nov. 8, when most Floridians were focused on three statewide elections that remained too close to call.
The board of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees water resources from Orlando to the Florida Keys, approved a hasty lease deal that will continue the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee. The district orders these discharges to protect the lake’s aging dike when the water level gets too high. However, flushing the nutrient-rich water into rivers running east and west is largely to blame for the guacamole-green algae blooms that have killed marine life, harmed businesses and hurt the quality of life along parts of Florida’s coasts. A lot of people in Martin and Lee counties voted for DeSantis because he promised to solve this problem.
The plan is to build a reservoir south of the lake that will let the polluted water flow south, not east and west. Once the water settles in the reservoir, it will be slowly released and further filtered over marshland before gradually reaching Florida Bay, which lacks sufficient fresh water.
But because of that hasty lease extension, sugar farming can continue on the reservoir land in Palm Beach County for at least two years, and potentially eight years. The deal also prevents the district from using the land for short-term water release until the reservoir is built. It is reprehensible that this nine-member board extended this lease of public land, knowing the plan.
The extension was added to the board’s agenda the night before the meeting. DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Stuart, asked the board to delay its vote. After all, the public hadn’t had a chance to weigh in and the previous lease didn’t expire until the end of March.
The Florida Wildlife Federation is challenging the lease, alleging that it violates the state law designating the land for environmental restoration. DeSantis could join that lawsuit. He sounded appropriately appalled during a recent interview with Miami’s WPLG Channel 10.
“I had no idea this was even happening,” he said. “I got a call the night before they called a hastily (called) meeting. They didn’t give real public notice. (They) put something out on the internet the night before. That is not the way to do business. My people, we are looking at the substance of this lease because I had no knowledge of it happening. That is not the way I think the water management should do business. The public has a right to know what’s going on and there should be open debate on these things.”
In March, the terms of three district board members — Sam Accursio, Rick Barber and James Moran — expire. DeSantis should replace them. Besides approving the lease, these three men also voted to withdraw the district from the court order that commits the state to Everglades cleanup, an even more dangerous decision.
While he’s at it, DeSantis should do some spring cleaning at the St. Johns River Water Management District, too.
Sadly, as a parting act of contempt for the environment, Scott reappointed the St. Johns district’s chairman, John Miklos, a man of seemingly unlimited conflicts of interest between his environmental consulting business and his officials duties on the district’s governing board. His conflicts were so egregious that he couldn’t even get appointed to an Orange County advisory board for development.
The good news is that terms of three board members — Ron Howse, Fred Roberts Jr. and Charles Drake — also expire in March, giving DeSantis an opportunity to fill at least one with a person who possesses solid environmental or conservation credentials.
Historically, water management boards have included all constituencies. Scott instead chose to stack them with industry representatives. DeSantis can fix that almost right away.
Among the changes needed should be allowing the districts to let tax revenues rise as property values rise, an equation Scott prohibited for water, but pushed for schools.
South Florida’s flood control system is nearly 70 years old and needs major updates. During high tides and heavy rain, water brims at the top of some gates along the district’s 2,000 miles of canals. Plus, there’s bipartisan agreement that in 40 years, the sea will be two feet higher here.
Yet an internal auditor’s report found the annual budget for flood control maintenance is about $30 million short. In 2015, the executive director warned the district would “go off a cliff” without more revenue. Scott ordered him to be fired.
Similarly, Scott refused even to mention “climate change” and “global warming.” Cities and counties are taking their own actions, but the state needs to lead on Florida’s response to this threat.
We know climate change is a politically divisive issue, despite the evidence. But sea-level rise — a consequence of the warming planet — is not disputed here at Ground Zero. On sunny days in the fall, you can see seawater bubbling up from stormwater drains.
DeSantis should create an executive-level task force on climate change — or resiliency, if that’s an easier way to frame the challenge — that studies everything from rising seas, to infrastructure needs, to agriculture innovations, to becoming the world leader on resiliency. From that task force could come recommendations for the Legislature and the five water management districts to address the economic imperative facing our state.
We likely will disagree with DeSantis on many issues, including the importance of public schools. But he seems to understand that Florida’s economy depends on a healthy environment.
With Democrat Nikki Fried replacing Putnam, the Agriculture Department also should have a different attitude toward the environment. Fried could be the new governor’s ally on red tide, toxic algae and the importance of clean water.
DeSantis became governor by persuading enough independents that he would be a different kind of Republican on environmental issues. We’re counting on him to keep that promise. Our region’s future depends on it.