After signing an executive order “implementing major reforms to ensure the protection of Florida’s environment and water quality” earlier in the day, on Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for mass resignations at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).
Speaking in Stuart on Thursday, DeSantis “called for the immediate resignations of all governing board members of the South Florida Water Management District.” DeSantis said he was following the advice of U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.
“One of the recommendations that Congressman Mast has provided to me was that we really need a fresh start at the South Florida Water Management District and so today I have sent correspondence to all of the board members, thanking them for their service but requesting their resignation,” said DeSantis.
Last month, Mast called for the board to resign after approving a lease for Florida Crystals to use land that he said was for the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir. Mast also noted there was no advance public notice for the vote.
Mast weighed in on DeSantis‘ call for resignations on Thursday.
“For far too long the South Florida Water Management District has been more accountable to special interests than to the people of Florida,” Mast said. “That changes today, and I look forward to continuing to work with Governor DeSantis to find replacements who make our waterways and environment the number one priority.”
Over in the state Senate, Democrat Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, weighed in on the governor’s executive orders.
“While I am encouraged that Governor DeSantis is taking the first steps to address the dire water pollution crisis facing Florida, I am concerned by the lack of details in his directive,” she said.
“His order calls for the securing of $2.5 billion over the next four years to invest in Everglades restoration and protecting our water resources, but there is no identification of where that money will come from. Will he turn to the Trump administration? Or will he be seeking help from the Legislature? Can our state budget handle this increase? Is the plan to cut into other programs to raise the needed funds? Will Floridians lose services in one area to offset the costs for water cleanup?
“The governor’s executive order also calls for DEP ‘to establish a septic conversion and remediation grant program with a local government match requirement.’ But that, too, raises a host of questions for which answers are elusive. Will the full costs of these conversions be covered by the state and local governments? Or will homeowners be forced to foot an expensive bill? What if local governments don’t have the resources? Especially for our counties with fewer resources at their disposal, or those counties that were hard hit by Hurricane Michael and have little if any resources remaining, how will they manage this new mandate?” Gibson asked.
“We share the urgency for cleaning up our water and our environment; it’s been a top priority of ours for many years. The policies of the past administration have taken a terrible toll on our natural resources, to say nothing of the impact on our marine life,” Gibson added. “But an executive order has to have more than just lofty goals, or admirable pursuits. It has to have the details we need to judge whether these goals are doable without hammering local governments and families throughout Florida with expenses they cannot possibly afford. Senate Democrats look forward to getting those details.”
The Florida chapter of the Sierra Club also weighed in, noting it was “pleased that Governor DeSantis is tackling Florida’s water crisis as an immediate, top priority in his administration” and liking “his emphasis on reducing nutrient pollution” but noting some concerns.
“We support: focus on nutrient pollution; creation of a science office at DEP; expediting Everglades restoration projects; septic conversion program; commitment to enforce environmental regulations; additional stormwater treatment for the C-43 reservoir; commitment to protect Apalachicola River and to stop State of Georgia’s harmful water withdrawals affecting Florida,” the Sierra Club Florida Chapter noted.
Frank Jackalone, the Sierra Club Florida Chapter director, gave DeSantis some praise and jabbed now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., for his record in Tallahassee.
“In his first week in office, Governor DeSantis has done more to address Florida’s water quality crisis than Governor Rick Scott did in eight years,” said Jackalone.
Still the group had “major concerns” which it listed.
“We oppose immediate work on the poorly designed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. It first needs to be redesigned to include a shallower, wider reservoir with a major land purchase to provide for the necessary treatment of water from the reservoir before it is released south to the Everglades,” the Sierra Club Florida Chapter noted. “There is no mention of the need to work with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to address agricultural pollution. There is no mention of the need to combat climate change which is making Florida’s waters warmer and intensifying harmful algae blooms. Like Governor Scott, Governor DeSantis opposes offshore drilling off Florida’s coasts without also opposing new drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico which is the oil industry’s real target, or the expansion of inland oil drilling within the Greater Everglades. Governor DeSantis needs to oppose acid matrix limestone fracturing which is how the oil and gas industries do fracking in Florida. We are disappointed that he singles out ‘hydraulic fracturing’ which isn’t the form of fracking that is done in Florida. Last year’s bipartisan bills banning fracking recognized this distinction. Nutrient pollution feeds/fuels both blue green algae and Red Tide. Nutrient reduction strategies and regulation should also be focused on preventing Red Tide that threatens coastal communities. Just studying Red Tide is not enough. The failure to make a commitment to the reinstatement of strong statewide and regional land use planning. Governor Rick Scott dismantled the Department of Community Affairs, which had overseen large-scale developments impacting Florida’s natural resources for over three decades; Governor DeSantis can and must compensate for the last eight years.”