Nature is telling us something, but we’re still not listening.
During last year’s “summer of slime,” toxic blue-green algae blooms befouled Lake Okeechobee and rivers across South Florida. A lingering red tide crept up both of the state’s coasts, killing marine life and sickening beach-goers — and stopping just short of the line between Volusia and Brevard counties. The condition of North Florida’s natural springs, including Volusia County’s iconic Blue Spring, Gemini Springs and DeLeon Springs, continued their long decline due to algae growth and reduced flows.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was elected in November on the promise of being a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist” who would better protect the environment than his predecessor. Given the dreadful record of Rick Scott, who shredded environmental regulations and the agencies tasked with enforcing them during his eight years as governor, there was huge room for improvement.
DeSantis struck the right tone with early moves such as establishing a Blue-Green Algae Task Force and selecting the state’s first chief science officer, Tom Frazer, from the University of Florida’s ranks. But the state legislative session and subsequent moves by the DeSantis administration suggest more of the costly restoration projects and endless studies that fail to stop the pollution fueling algae blooms.
Blue-green algae is again popping up in waters across Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported this week. The problem has led the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to consider new limits on how much toxic algae should be allowed in the state’s waterways.
But these limits would only be used to determine when to declare public emergencies, not as a tool to prevent such emergencies, a DEP spokeswoman told the Times. Environmental advocates rightly argue that the limits should be used to stop practices that cause algae blooms to be longer lasting and more widespread, such as pollution from inappropriately located septic tanks and agricultural operations.
During this spring’s state legislative session, lawmakers considered but failed to pass new regulations on septic tanks and other pollution sources. Instead they passed and DeSantis signed a budget that repeats many of the same mistakes that allowed Florida’s environment to deteriorate.
The state continues to spend big to make up for the mistakes of polluters while dedicating too little money to the most promising solutions. Lawmakers again shortchanged the Florida Forever land-conservation program, ignoring the will of voters who passed an amendment requiring otherwise.
The state needs more than voluntary practices to control pollution from agricultural operations and more aggressive steps to prevent pollution from home septic tanks and fertilizer. These measures would benefit Florida’s springs as well as the waterways again experiencing algae blooms.
Warming temperatures mean these problems will only worsen unless we do things differently. If Florida wants to avoid another summer of slime this year and for years to come, we must start listening to what nature is telling us.
This editorial originally appeared in the Gainesville Sun.