Florida’s elected officials, from the governor on down, tend to act like environmental champions when campaigning for votes. With this year’s legislative session now underway and numerous state races on the ballot in the fall, voters need to pay attention to determine whether the records of these officials match their rhetoric.
This session, there are a few positive measures for protecting Florida’s environment along with some significant threats. One bill would implement needed inspections of septic tanks that contribute to groundwater pollution, but another bill would lead to greater pollution from fertilizer applied on farms.
The tricky part is gauging whether even good-sounding bills do enough to protect such natural treasures as North Florida’s springs. State lawmakers take credit when passing environmental legislation that seemed positive at the time, but due to term limits they are long out of office when it becomes clear that little progress was made in reducing the pollution and depletion of springs.
“There is no accountability when it comes to environmental protection,” said Ryan Smart, executive director of the Florida Springs Council. “It’s all feel-good rhetoric and greenwashing.”
The Sun’s ongoing Messages from the Springs Heartland series features columns on the problems facing springs and what needs to be done to protect them. I’m also moderating an online forum with the authors of the latest pieces: Stacie Greco of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Institute and Lucinda Faulkner Merritt of the Ichetucknee Alliance.
The springs forum will be streamed live on Facebook (www.facebook.com/GainesvilleSun/) on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. Readers should submit questions for the panelists in advance through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Springs forum questions.”
I’ll be asking the panelists their opinions on the latest in the legislative session as it relates to protecting springs and other water bodies. One significant piece of legislation, SB 832, would implement some recommendations of the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, including requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a program to inspect septic tanks every five years.
Gov. Ron DeSantis created the task force in 2019 to address algal blooms that kill fish and wildlife and endanger public health, which are fueled by such sources as fertilizer from farms and pollution from septic tanks. A bill containing the group’s recommendations was watered down last year and then failed to pass, so is back again for consideration this year.
More Messages from the Springs Heartland:
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously Monday to advance the proposal. The measure would require the monitoring of projects costing more than $1 million that are supposed to improve water quality and reduce water use, in order to determine if they are working as intended.
Smart said the legislation represents incremental progress, but another measure advanced by the committee is much worse than SB 832 is beneficial. With much of the pollution impairing springs already coming from agriculture, SB 1000 would allow farmers to apply even greater amounts of fertilizer.
Under the bill, the level of fertilizer used by farmers under so-called Best Management Practices could be set by certified crop advisors rather than experts in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Smart said the legislation would be “moving us in the opposite direction of what we want to do” to reduce the pollution of springs.
Floridians need to pay attention when supposed springs champions support such legislation — and vote accordingly in the fall. Watch our springs forum to find out more.
Journalism matters. Your support matters.
Get a digital subscription to the Gainesville Sun. Includes must-see content on Gainesville.com and Gatorsports.com, breaking news and updates on all your devices, and access to the Gainesville.com ePaper. Visit www.gainesville.com/subscribenow to sign up.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Nathan Crabbe: Sun springs forum live Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. on Facebook