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Editorial: Water spending is only part of solution

Read the original story in the Gainesville Sun here: https://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20190131/editorial-water-spending-is-only-part-of-solution

 

 

Florida’s new governor is proposing big spending on water projects, but he also needs to prevent the pollution that is driving up those costs.

 

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that he will ask the Legislature to spend $625 million this year on water projects. The proposal is part of his plan to spend $2.5 billion on such projects over the next four years, a $1 billion increase from the past four years.

 

His early focus on protecting the environment is a welcome change from his predecessor, Rick Scott, who slashed environmental and growth management regulations. DeSantis is right to put Florida on what he calls “war footing” to fight water pollution, given the widespread algae blooms last year that showed how bad the problem has become.

 

But his plan disproportionately spends on the Everglades and South Florida water bodies, while neglecting to similarly address the decline of North Florida’s natural springs. The proposal seeks $360 million for Everglades restoration while dedicating $50 million to restoring springs, with the latter being the same as the current level of state spending.

 

As Sierra Club Florida put it, springshed protection is also drinking water protection and deserves a higher level of attention. The group rightly calls for equal spending on land conservation between South and North Florida.

 

Voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2014 to dedicate funding to land conservation, but the Legislature has diverted much of the money to other costs. DeSantis should push lawmakers to honor the will of the voters and spend the money on its intended purpose.

Preventing pollution at its source is a more effective — and less costly — approach than spending later to clean up springs and other water bodies. The state would cut the cost of expensive, taxpayer-funded water projects if it better regulated nitrate pollution and stopped permitting excessive groundwater pumping.

 

DeSantis’ plan includes spending $100 million for cost-share grant funding for wastewater and stormwater improvements, including septic tank conversions. While much of the focus on septic tanks has been on their contribution to water pollution in South Florida, Gainesville would also benefit from connecting properties in the city that are still on septic tanks to the municipal sewer system.

 

The contribution of fertilizer from agriculture and residential lawns to water pollution also needs to be addressed. And while the governor proposes spending $40 million on alternative water supply development, water conservation must be emphasized as another less costly way to prevent the depletion of groundwater.

 

To DeSantis’ credit, his first three weeks as governor have been more promising for the environment than eight years under Scott. The blue-green algae blooms that fouled South Florida waterways and the red tide that spread along the state’s coasts in the last year have shown the consequences of such negligence.

 

Hopefully the new governor pushes for the Legislature to not only increase environmental spending but do more. The bill for water projects will only get larger unless lawmakers take a statewide approach to better protecting our natural resources.

 

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Read the original story in the Gainesville Sun here: https://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20190131/editorial-water-spending-is-only-part-of-solution

 

 

 

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