Standing behind a lectern at a press conference in Fort Pierce on Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis touted the incoming cash injection for Florida’s environment that he would set in motion by signing off on the state budget.
I think this is probably the strongest environmental budget we’ve ever had in Florida history, said from the Pelican Yacht Club. The governor highlighted some big numbers, including $1.6 billion for Everglades and water quality projects and $100 million for the ailing Indian River Lagoon, where a man-made famine has resulted in an unprecedented manatee die-off.
But less than 50 miles from the fanfare, an environmental crisis was taking shape: Toxic blue-green algal blooms covered more than half of Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s liquid heart and largest freshwater lake.
Not mentioned by DeSantis during his press conference highlighting his environmental accomplishments was his decision Thursday to prevent cities or counties from adopting new bans on fertilizers, a water quality tool designed to curb the type of toxic algae that is currently spreading on Lake O. The fertilizer is high in nutrients, so when it flows into nearby streams it can act as fuel for algal blooms. Fertilizer bans in the summer months are meant to prevent this from happening.
Despite public outcry from dozens of Florida environmental groups, Governor DeSantis has not used his veto on a measure that will suspend cities or counties from adopting or changing seasonal fertilizer restrictions after June 30 and through July 1, 2024. over a one-year period, University of Florida researchers will use $250,000 to study the effectiveness of wet season bans and present their findings by the end of this year, before the start of next year’s wet season .
Critics of the measure, which was introduced in the final days of the legislative session without the possibility of public hearings or legislative scrutiny, said the sneak attack was a waste of taxpayer dollars studying what the science already clarifies: curbing l The use of fertilizers during the rainy season is an effective means of reducing urban stormwater pollution.
The head of the same organization that backed DeSantis at Thursday’s press conference said he was upset by the governor’s decision.
We are, of course, disappointed, said Captain Daniel Andrews, a Fort Myers-based fishing guide and executive director of Captains for Clean Water. The organization last month urged DeSantis to use his veto power over the measure.
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Andrews said he was overall pleased with Everglades’ investments and plans to help the Indian River Lagoon, but added: Although the moratorium to allow for more regulation of fertilizers by local governments is only for a year, it has nonetheless been a missed opportunity.
Here’s what it all means: Cities or counties that are considering enacting a fertilizer ban will now have to wait until at least next July while researchers compile their findings. But for governments that already have a ban in place, such as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties and the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, the new measure won’t affect how they continue to address water quality issues.
In a text message, DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern stressed that existing bans are still in effect, but said suspending new bans ensures fewer variables are introduced during the study period.
As a result of the legislation, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will focus on a literature review of the most recent studies examining urban fertilizers and environmental impacts, according to Michael Dukes, director of the UF Institutes Center for Land Use Efficiency.
Dukes said they anticipate their findings will demonstrate that more studies are needed to determine the relationship between nutrient losses and fertilizer use in urban areas.
There is a lack of existing studies on the effects of fertilizers leaving landscapes during rainy seasons or otherwise, Dukes said in a statement.
If science-based information is to be used to make policy, this must be understood in order to understand the effect of fertilizer ordinances, Dukes said. Furthermore, this work will define knowledge gaps and further research questions.
More than 100 municipalities across Florida, including more than 20 local governments in Pinellas, have used wet-season fertilizer bans as a tool to prevent waterlogging in the state.
Lawn care company TruGreen has hired former Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to lobby for the proposal, according to Florida Phoenix.
In a statement last month to the Tampa Bay Times, TruGreen did not deny the lobbying efforts and said: We support the scientists at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and trust that its team of professionals will best understand the problems and how to manage fertilization, regardless of the season.
Dozens of environmental groups who have signed letters urging the governor to veto the measure said they disagree.
The governor’s failure to veto the fertilizer measure will mean more nutrients and more toxic algae in our waterways, particularly if lawmakers use the findings of this study to justify a long-term or even permanent ban on fertilizer ordinances with provisions of summer blackouts, said Gil Smart, executive director of advocacy group VoteWater.
The way this provision was put into budget bills in the first place, at the behest of a fertilizer lobbyist, was dishonest, Smart said in an email.
DeSantis just validated that dishonesty.
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