Gov. DeSantis wants to boost state regulations to improve water quality

algae bloom
Credit: John Moran

Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for tighter regulation of water resources and agriculture runoff to improve water quality across Florida.

He plans to ask lawmakers for help, by pursuing legislation during the 2020 legislative session.

“I think it will, if enacted, make substantial improvement to water quality throughout the state – and I think these will be policies informed by science,” the governor said during a news conference at a Loxahatchee River District facility in Jupiter.

The plan emerged from early deliberations by the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, created to address the toxic algae eruptions that have plagued Florida’s waterways in recent years.

DeSantis wants to require local utilities to upgrade facilities in hopes of preventing sewage discharges into the environment. During 2017 and 2018, the governor said, such plants spilled more than 320 million gallons. “This is not something that’s acceptable,” DeSantis said

Additionally, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would gain authority to inspect such facilities without having to wait for a spill.

The legislation would ratify DEP regulations governing biowaste, and that agency would assume responsibility for septic tank regulation, with an eye to preventing environmental hazards. Under existing law, the Florida Department of Health regulates septic threats to human health only, the governor said.

DEP would gain oversight of agricultural runoff including authority for onsite inspections. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service would report on runoff volumes and composition to DEP and state water management districts. Finally, the agency would assume expanded oversight of stormwater systems.

During the summer, DeSantis announced plans to seek $625 million in recurring funding to protect water resources and boost fines for local governments and utilities that pollute water.

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