Environmentalists in 16 Florida cities demand state action to promote clean water

01/22/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: EPA, DEP, water, clean water, Florida, Kevin Beckner, Mark Danish, fertilizer


Hillsborough County Commissioner signs a clean water pledge on statewide day of activism.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Environmentalists in Tampa are joining 15 other communities across the state in signing a clean water pledge Wednesday. During a rally on the Riverwalk behind the Straz Center, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner added his name to the list of elected officials and activists who are demanding the state do more to protect water.

“We also have an issue in Hillsborough County of individuals having access to clean, affordable drinking water. It’s something that so many of us take for granted on a daily basis. Yet there are citizens in our community that wake up, when they turn on their spigots they don’t have clean water and some of them have been hit with exurbanite water fees and bills that it’s time that we come together as a community to make sure that this basic, inalienable right that people should have to access to clean water and affordable water and to our waterways to make sure that it’s secured for every Floridian and every single person in our Tampa Bay community.”

But the Hillsborough County Commission has not approved a fertilizer ordinance that would ban nitrogen-based fertilizers during the rainy summer months. The runoff into waterways can cause nutrient pollution.

“We’ve made dramatic increases in the water qualities. We’ve reduced a lot of nutrient levels. The sea grass levels in our waterways have grown over 60% from 1982 to 2012, but we have a lot more work that we have to do.”

The pledge calls for the state and big businesses to protect water from over-consumption and privatization. Frank Jackalone is with the Sierra Club Florida.

“The most important part of this declaration in my view is the first responsibility that is being ignored by the state and by business as usual in Florida. That is, number one, stop pollution at its source rather than allowing it to enter our waters.”

Tuesday, Governor Rick Scott announced he’s recommending $55 million be appropriated to improve water quality in the state’s freshwater springs. Last year, the budget included $10 million. Jackalone says that kind of reactionary spending is not the way to fix water quality issues in Florida.

“It’s going to cost billions of dollars to clean up our springs. It’s going to cost billions of dollars to clean up the Indian River Lagoon. The same is true with the St. Johns River. The same is true with Southwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico and the amount of economic damage that is being done to businesses and people in this state is in the many billions of dollars as well.”

Instead he claims some state officials are actively trying to stop environmental policies that would promote healthier waterways. That includes the state gaining control of environmental regulations instead of the federal EPA. Under the purview of the EPA, Florida would have been subject to stricter numeric water nutrient standards. The Sierra Club is fighting the state’s takeover in court. Jackalone says legislators are also meddling in good water policy by trying to block local ordinances.

“Every year for the last seven years, there has been an effort by the legislature, in the legislature, to preempt these local fertilizer ordinances to say that the city of Tampa and the city of St. Pete were out of line to regulate fertilizer and you have to bring everything down to the lowest common denominator.”

Also with the Sierra Club Florida is Kent Bailey. He’s also worried about the economic impacts of dirty waterways like Lake Okechobee, the St. Johns River and the Indian River Lagoon.

“Without clean water in our lakes, springs and streams and along our coast, we’ll have no tourism. Without clean, abundant water, we’ll have no agriculture. Without clean, abundant water, we’ll have no phosphate industry. Bottom line, we’ll have no jobs and future for Florida.”

But Bailey is also worried about the impacts to habitats and wildlife affected by unhealthy waterways. He told a story about the first time he saw a manatee. He thought it was a big log until it moved and says he was in awe.

“The Florida manatee has been here for 45 million years, but today I have to tell you, I wonder if my grandchildren or my great grandchildren are going to be able to have the same kind of experience that I had. At this time last year, we had 4800 manatee left. Now, we have fewer than 4,000. In a single year we lost one in six. Eight hundred manatee died in one year. At that rate, they’ll all be gone by 2020.”

The pledge being circulated by more than 100 organizations across the state was also signed Wednesday morning by Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern and Tampa-area state representative Mark Danish. Danish sits on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I’ve been an environmentalist all my life and that’s something I want to keep on doing and making sure the right things are done and the state takes a very close look at these things and listens to what’s being said by people because people are saying it’s important and therefore up in the legislature we must make it a very high priority that we take care of things.”

Groups from across the state are rallying in Tallahassee on February 18 to demand legislation to promote cleaner water. That includes using EPA numeric nutrient standards.

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