Gov. DeSantis unveils water-quality website for the public; promised legislation still under wraps

algae bloom
A 2018 algae outbreak in Stuart, FL. Photo by John Moran.

Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a Florida water-quality website Tuesday to raise public awareness about water pollution, related health risks, and cleanup initiatives.

It also raises awareness about DeSantis.

The site, www.ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov,  includes water-quality status reports on troubled waters in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie River, and the Caloosahatchee River and estuary, with more to come.

In seven of the eight articles on the site’s homepage, DeSantis’ name appears first or in the first sentence.

At a press conference in Stuart, the governor and First Lady Casey DeSantis said the new website will make it easy for citizens and visitors to check water conditions that may impact their health and their travel.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis.

“It’s a water- quality dashboard  that will be a one-stop shop for water quality information,” DeSantis said. “If there are discharges and there’s algae, what does that mean for the environment but also what does it mean for health? … We didn’t have really a good way to share that with the public.”

Speaking for Friends of the Everglades, Alex Gillen gave the new website a polite but lukewarm welcome.

“We would have preferred to see a draft bill by the governor proposing a legal solution to our failed environmental policy before the creation of this website,” said Alex Gillen, executive director of Friends of the Everglades.

“But there is no question the state can do a better job warning the public about the health implications of toxic algae by putting information in one place.”

Red tide hot spots in Florida.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said water-quality status reports on the site will help readers avoid toxic water conditions.

“As we know, harmful algal blooms can pose a risk to the public. It is important to keep the public informed about this,” Rivkees said.

Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, underlined the importance of gathering and acting on reliable scientific information and re-engaging the public to demand  better water quality.

“There’s no way to do that unless we have clear science, that we’re collecting data and that the public can easily engage in that and see how they can participate, hold us accountable as an agency and get excited about making a difference in the state of Florida,” Valenstein said.

The website includes information about DeSantis’ newly created Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency, his chief science officer, Thomas Frazer, and press releases about his positions on various water-quality issues.

Various tabs address toxic algae blooms and red tide; restoration plans for the Caloosahatchee, Okeechobee and St. Lucie basins; and opportunities through Volunteer Florida to help improve water quality.