Given the Legislature’s disappointing record in recent years, DeSantis must use his influence to prevent even these incremental improvements from being watered down.

Given the Legislature’s disappointing record in recent years, Gov. Ron DeSantis must use his influence to prevent proposed water-quality regulations from being watered down.


Florida has been down this road before: State lawmakers pledge to crack down on polluters, vowing that this year will be different in terms of protecting water quality.


This year’s legislative session is again starting with promises of significant measures to prevent algae blooms and other problems that have plagued Florida’s water bodies. Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, suggested that past history provides a reason to be skeptical about such legislation actually being approved.


“Let’s see — no pun intended — how watered down it gets by end of session because unfortunately we saw some good ideas last year that just fizzled,” Webber told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “Last year — famously — was the year after that terrible summer and we didn’t get one substantial water quality bill passed the entire year even though there were plenty of good ideas.”


In 2018, the state experienced a “summer of slime” in which there were toxic blue-green algae blooms in rivers across South Florida and Lake Okeechobee. Red tide spread along both of Florida’s coasts, killing wildlife and sickening people. North Florida’s natural springs continued to suffer from algae growth and reduced flows.


The causes of algae blooms include groundwater and water bodies being polluted with excessive nutrients from such sources as agricultural operations, septic tanks, sewage spills and urban runoff. But instead of stopping such pollution at its source, the state’s answer has too often been sticking taxpayers with the bill for clean-up and restoration efforts.


Legislation being proposed this year marks a significant departure for regulation-averse Republicans who control the Legislature, the Herald-Tribune reported. Some prominent GOP backers are proposing new regulations on polluters and have a powerful ally in Gov. Ron DeSantis.


In one of his first acts in office, DeSantis created a task force to identify ways to reduce algae blooms. Scientists from the University of Florida and other institutions issued findings and recommendations, which have been incorporated in legislation that DeSantis touted during last week’s State of the State address as “a chance to take bold action to make a lasting positive impact upon Florida’s environment.”


Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic, is sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation — CS/SB 712, dubbed the Clean Waterways Act. The 91-page bill includes a variety of measures aimed at reducing nutrient pollution from such sources as septic tanks, sewer pipes and stormwater runoff.


The measure includes a grant program to help local governments connect homes on septic tanks to sewer lines. It would also require the state to conduct biennial inspections of voluntary “best management practices” used by agricultural operations to reduce nutrient pollution.


Given the Legislature’s disappointing record in recent years, DeSantis must use his influence to prevent even these incremental improvements from being watered down.


This guest editorial was originally published in The Gainesville Sun, a sister newspaper within Gannett Florida.