The run-up to this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee has been filled with promising signs for Florida’s environment, a surprising and encouraging development considering the virtual antipathy of recent Legislatures toward conservation.
In separate announcements last week, Gov. Rick Scott said he’ll seek $55 million to restore and maintain the state’s natural springs, and that he wants the state to double its spending on Everglades restoration, bumping it up to $130 million.
In the Senate, a $380-million plan to help the state’s natural water bodies is being drafted. And in the House, members are also working on a springs restoration package.
Whatever the motivation — be it political or not — the results will benefit the environment, the economy, and the reputation of Florida as a place of abundant natural beauty. The governor and state lawmakers should be applauded and encouraged to do even more.
The contrast could hardly be more stark compared with Scott’s first years in office, when he gutted environmental protections and cut funding for a program that purchased pristine lands. State lawmakers were no less a threat to Florida’s natural wonders, targeting growth management laws that guarded against haphazard development.
The state’s clumsy attempt last year to sell some of its previously purchased conservation lands has been a dismal failure.
The measures being pitched in advance of this legislative session will go a long way toward restoring and protecting some of the state’s freshwater sources. Nutrient-rich stormwater runoff, along with leaky septic tanks, pose a hazard to Florida’s 700 springs. About half the money Scott is proposing would go toward reducing runoff, and about half would go toward restoring damaged springs.
As proposed, money for the Everglades will help restore the natural flow of water into the southern end of the Everglades. It will also be used for water treatment projects important to the overall health of the Everglades.
In addition to the spending, we hope lawmakers will reconsider a measure passed in 2010 but later repealed that required septic systems be inspected every five years, with the goal of reducing the number of faulty systems. Septic tank owners complained about the costs, but now that the economy has improved lawmakers should do what they can to mitigate that hazard to freshwater sources.
The state’s economic future depends on protecting its fragile freshwater systems, which nourish our plants and animals and provide drinking water for our growing population. Millions of people visit the Sunshine State each year to enjoy its beaches, its open water, and its state and federal parks. Thousands of people decide to move here each year, drawn by its climate and its natural beauty.
The tough budget years during the great recession made for some tough choices. But cutting programs that protect our freshwater sources was shortsighted.
The talk in Tallahassee these days is reminiscent of the enlightened environmental leadership under a string of previous governors, both Democrat and Republican, who understood the relationship between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
Let’s hope that the promise of this legislative session signals a return to those days.