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Well-known author Cynthia Barnett comments on water issues, DeSantis, and others.
Read the original article here in the Atlantic.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared on his inauguration day that water is “part and parcel of Florida’s DNA,” and vowed to fight the pollution and toxic algae that choked the state’s beaches and fresh waters last summer, his critics rolled their eyes to the Tallahassee heavens above. DeSantis had a poor environmental voting record in Congress. He’d helped found the House Freedom Caucus, which urged President Donald Trump to eliminate the Clean Water Rule and dozens of other environmental safeguards.
But two days later, the critics looked to those same heavens in wonder. Florida’s new governor began his tenure with one of the furthest-reaching environmental orders in state history, calling for a record $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration, a harmful-algae task force, a chief science officer, and an office of resilience and coastal protection to fund and coordinate Florida’s response to rising seas. Under the headline “Florida’s Green Governor,” the state’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, declared that DeSantis “has done more to protect the environment and tackle climate change in one week than his predecessor did in eight years.”
DeSantis’s actions reflect a broader effort by some red-state governors to confront the unifying issue of water, even though they remain quiet, if not completely silent, on the larger crisis of a warming world.
Like DeSantis, Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey focused on water in his first major address of the new year—without using the words climate change. During his reelection campaign, water was “one of the issues I was asked about most by real people,” he said. Noting that Arizona faces a January 31 deadline to figure out how to reallocate its dwindling portion of the Colorado River, Ducey urged the legislature to see beyond politics and partisanship to “do the things that matter and secure Arizona’s future.”
“At the top of that list,” he said, is “securing our water future.”
It was the same in Idaho, where newly elected Republican Governor Brad Little devoted part of his State of the State speech to “Idaho’s lifeblood”—water—spotlighting the once arcane issue of Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer replenishment.
These red-state GOP governors are not taking aim at greenhouse-gas emissions like their blue-state Republican counterparts Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Phil Scott of Vermont. Still, environmentalists should not dismiss their momentum on water. In several states won by Trump, water, literally a chemical bond, is also proving a bond that brings disparate people, groups, and political parties together around shared concerns for the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the Colorado River, and other liquid life systems. “We have this phenomenon where one of the ways to work on climate change without triggering the cultural wars is to work on water,” says John Fleck, the director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, who researches the Colorado River and solutions to water scarcity.
A half century ago, President Richard Nixon pushed the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, and other safeguards in response to a broad public outcry over the industrial and sewage pollution then fouling rivers, bays, and coastlines. This June 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire credited with sparking that outcry. But amid all the events and retrospective articles planned to commemorate that date, the more important one to remember might be 1868. That was the first of at least a dozen times the Cuyahoga burst into
All that time, Americans accepted industrial pollution as an inevitable consequence of progress. Now we don’t have the hundred years we spent watching the Cuyahoga burn to watch the planet do the same. We must hope that the red-state governors’ attention to water will lead them to act on climate change, because the sorry truth is that even the boldest work on water won’t mean much if we can’t also stop warming.
In the early 2000s, Australia faced a drought so severe that abandoning major cities such as Perth seemed like a real possibility; the continent was feeling the water effects of climate change earlier than the rest of the world. For two decades, the Aussies have pioneered desalination, water markets, sewage recycling—and generally some of the most conscientious water habits in the developed world. And yet all that is not enough. It is summer in Australia. This month, record temperatures have contributed to wildfires, horses found dead in dry watering holes, and unprecedented fish kills in the iconic Darling River.
Hundreds of thousands of fish float belly up there, in striking and sickening similarity to Florida’s summer. DeSantis said it best: Water issues “do not fall on partisan lines.” Nor, ultimately, will climate change.