“This is what Florida’s quality of life is all about,” Governor Ron DeSantis said at the end of a press conference held in front of the picturesque Weeki Wachee Springs on November 9, 2021. “This is what our economy runs on. You can’t find this anywhere in the country … we are blessed to have it.”
During the press conference, DeSantis announced funding of $500 million to 103 waterway projects statewide, aimed at improving water quality and reducing nutrients introduced into these waterways.
Septic to sewer conversions and upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities are included in the funding, although the specific waterways slated to receive the funding were not mentioned during the Governor’s appearance. 72 wastewater upgrades will reduce nitrogen by 619,000 pounds per year.
28 springs projects are expected to reduce nitrogen by more than 700,000 per year.
Land acquisitions are important to protect endangered waterways as well. In Hernando County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has been instrumental in getting rules changed that will allow for law enforcement to prohibit human traffic on SWFWMD-owned land.
Two members of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provided further information about the planned projects. DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton mentioned land acquisitions as “key buffers,” another preservation tool from which other districts and counties could benefit.
DEP Chief Science Officer Mark Rains credits his position on Governor DeSantis’ leadership. “When Governor DeSantis took office in 2019, he laid out a bold vision for our water quality future, then quickly set about undertaking that vision.” Executive Order 2019-12 created the position of the Chief Science Officer, and also created the Blue-Green Algae Task Force.
This task force, described by Rains as being comprised of “5 independent, world-class scientists,” helps the state understand water quality challenges by using the best available science. Their recommendations formed the scientific basis for the creation of Senate Bill 712, “The Clean Waterways Act,” and other changes to relevant laws and policies.