Clean-water coalition asks governor to veto watered-down legislation

algae bloom
A blue-green algae outbreak in Stuart, FL. Photo by John Moran

A coalition of 50 clean-water organizations in Florida are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the 2020 Legislature’s “Clean Waterways Act,” insisting it won’t clean up the state’s polluted waterways and will falsely give the impression in an election year that pollution is under control.

“If signed into law, CS/CS/SB 712 will only make our water quality problems worse in the long run. It provides political cover for a Legislature that refuses to make the tough choices necessary to address this crisis. And it guarantees another half-decade, or more, of inaction towards meaningful and effective water quality laws,” says a letter released to the public Tuesday and delivered to the governor Monday.

Signatories to the letter include large and small organizations that have for decades been pointing the way to protect Florida’s waterways from pollution. They include Sierra Club Florida, Florida Springs Council, Earthjustice, League of Women Voters of Florida, Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club, Florida Paddling Association, Florida Water Conservation Trust, and numerous regional groups allied around protecting rivers and springs in their own back yards.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican from Indian River and Brevard counties, passed the House and the Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Mayfield herself acknowledged the legislation does not accomplish all she set out to do, but she and others call it an overdue step forward to address a pollution problem long in the making and long ignored by lawmakers.

The coalition letter says polluters and their champions pressured Mayfield to water-down the legislation, rendering it largely ineffective and worthy of a veto.

“This bill is an endorsement of the status quo which has led to our current water quality crisis,” the letter says. “Florida’s waters are polluted because our regulatory system is broken and those in charge of protecting our waters are unduly influenced by polluters and their lobbyists. Far from fixing these problems, CS/CS/SB 712 is a symptom of them.”

The backbone of Mayfield’s bill imposes stricter rules on municipal sewage and wastewater systems, which have been responsible for major sewage spills, and on septic tanks. It does little to reduce pollution generated by Florida’s enormous agricultural sector.

“CS/CS/SB 712 does nothing to prevent even one pound of agricultural pollution, the predominant source of nutrient pollution to Outstanding Florida Springs, from reaching our groundwater,” the coalition letter says. “CS/CS/SB 712 does not require the adoption or implementation of improved best management practices for agricultural producers, even though the need for such practices is almost universally recognized and many of Florida’s impaired waters cannot recover without them.”

Correction: The original story erroneously reported the League of Conservation Voters was among the signatories. Actually, it is the League of Women Voters of Florida that signed on.