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Environment

Save Our Water Summit Explores Causes/Solutions to Area Water Woes

Gov. Ron DeSantis was back in Southwest Florida, Wednesday, touting his administration’s efforts on water resource protection at the News-Press and Naples Daily News Save Our Water Summit in Bonita Springs. 

The sold-out summit drew a crowd of more than 600 stakeholders for a series of speeches and panel discussions exploring the region’s water woes, Everglades restoration and harmful algal blooms.  Southwest Florida was plagued by severe toxic red tide and blue green algae blooms in the summer of 2018 that killed tons of fish and other marine life and hit area-businesses particularly hard.

During his address, Gov. DeSantis noted the state legislature approved about $680 million in the state’s current fiscal year budget for Everglades restoration and water resource protection; that’s more than the $625 million in the governor’s own proposed budget.  “That’s never been done before in the state of Florida and so I think that was a really, really big victory for folks,” said DeSantis. “We want to make sure that we lock in that support over the next several years.”

DeSantis drew applause when he highlighted his administration’s efforts to bring in more federal support.

“I think if you look historically, the federal government hasn’t always done what it said it was going to do in terms of things like Everglades restoration,” said DeSantis.  “Well, we got the Trump administration to agree to do the $200 million over the next two years, which is what we asked for for Everglades restoration.”

Another applause line came when DeSantis mentioned his successful efforts to get the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide the remaining $60 million dollars needed to fully fund a project to raise Tamiami Trail to help restore the natural flow of water south through the Everglades into Florida Bay.

DeSantis touted other efforts to address Florida’s water resources and harmful algal blooms such as the appointing Thomas Frazer as the state’s first Chief Science Officer, the appointment of Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s Resiliency Officer, the creation of Florida’s blue-green algae task force and funding for a red tide mitigation partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

DeSantis closed his address by encouraging participants to lobby legislators to continue addressing water quality issues in the 2020 legislative session.

Other participants at the summit included state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and officials with area chambers of commerce, environmental advocacy groups the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

During a panel discussion, U.S. Army Corps Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds said the biggest change she’s seen over the past year concerning water issues is movement away from partisan finger pointing and a shift toward stakeholders pooling their resources and working together.  “If you’ve eaten food you didn’t grow yourself, you’re part of the problem.  If you’ve used the bathroom in the last 24 hours, you’re part of the problem,” said Reynolds.

“If you’ve driven on a road or lived anywhere there’s concrete or shopped in a store, you’re part of the problem. So we’re all part of the problem, but if you’ve voted, if you’ve paid your taxes, if you’ve gone to a public meeting, if you‘ve attended a water summit, you’re part of the solution.”

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Executive Director Drew Bartlett also spoke during that panel discussion about the district’s ongoing work with the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project to reduce the need for discharges of excess water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.  “What is going to happen over the next few years is more storage will be available, less discharges will happen , improved water quality around the district,” said Bartlett.

“We are opening up regulations.  We’re applying new regulations.  We’re investing in sea level rise and climate change so that we will be prepared in the future,” Bartlett continued.  “And let me tell you, Everglades restoration significantly helps us deal with the effects of sea level rise and climate change.”

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a sponsor of the summit.  The Conservancy’s president and CEO Rob Moher called the summit a “breakthrough moment.” 

“This isn’t just for the professionals in the room.  This was really designed from the get-go to be a communication opportunity to engage the community,” said Moher.  “I think you get a sense this morning from all the speakers that it’s translating and talking about personal agency.  What can I do?  How can I be part of the solution?  There’s no one sector or one agency that’s going to lead this by itself.  It’s going to be a together thing.”