The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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We Can’t Wait on Water

The Restoration and Protection of Florida’s Water Resources is an Essential Taxpayer Investment

Water is perhaps Florida’s most valuable resource. In addition to sustaining life, it provides many environmental, economic, and recreational benefits to the public.

With more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers, more than 1,000 springs, and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, it is also central to Florida’s identity and a key reason why so many people visit the Sunshine State.

The Governor and the Legislature recognize this, and state investment in protecting and restoring our water resources is increasing as a result.

On his second day in office, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order making the environment, especially water, a top priority. It called for funding of $2.5 billion over four years--$625 million a year—to significantly expedite Everglades restoration and the protection of our water resources. He called for creating a Blue-Green Algae Task Force and reestablishing a Red Tide Task Force, expediting projects to restore the Everglades and to clean and reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and creating grant programs to assist communities with water supply and septic -to-sewer conversion projects.

The Governor also directed changes at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enhance effectiveness, collaboration and transparency and appointed a Chief Science Officer to prioritize scientific research and analyzing needs. He also created an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to ensure Florida’s coastal communities are prepared for the impacts of sea-level rise and opposed all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida, as well as hydraulic fracturing.

The Legislature followed with $634 million in appropriations, that while not mirroring the Governor’s recommendations, addressed the key points.

Governor DeSantis recently released his budget recommendations for FY2020-21 and they reaffirm his commitment to the Everglades and the state’s water resources. His budget includes $635 million for water, including $322 million for the Everglades, $200 million for targeted water quality improvements, $40 million for alternative water supply grants, and $50 million for springs restoration.

The focus has been on restoring the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and will continue to be due to the Everglades sheer size and importance—it is the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world. In 2000, Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a $10.5 billion, 35-plus year project, designed to restore natural sheetflow, rehydrate marshes, and provide freshwater flows to protect our estuaries. Currently more than eight million South Florida residents, more than one-third of the state’s population, directly rely on the Everglades system for freshwater supply. Florida’s billion agriculture sector also relies heavily on this system to supply water for crop irrigation. The Everglades is also home to a diverse wildlife population, including 73 threatened or endangered species.

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the harmful discharges into downstream estuaries, as well as remediating and preventing the algal blooms these nutrient-laden waters cause.

This report examines the investment in water resource restoration, protection, and the potential benefits it provides.

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