Everglades restoration a favorite subject for government officials both in Florida and Washington, D.C. So far, it’s mostly talk, as the blue-green algae and red tide problems grow year after year. For years, the blue-green algae have been on both coasts, but this year red tide was found in the coastal waters from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County.
During the summer of 2018, thousands of dead fish washed up in Manatee County, but it wasn’t just fish that were dying. Wildlife, Inc.a Bradenton Beach organization treated nearly a dozen birds that were suffering from red tide. The birds included osprey, laughing gulls, anhingas and a black skimmer.
In the first two weeks of August, Mote Marine Laboratory recovered fifteen dolphins, and throughout 2018, they recovered 200 sea turtles. Their deaths were a combination of suspected red tide and human interaction with boat strikes and being tangled in fishing gear.
In Manatee County, there were two dead manatees and many others being reported in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, and Sarasota.
Florida’s new Governor, Rick DeSantis pledged that he would make red tide and the blue-green toxic algae flowing from Lake Okeechobee a top state economic priority. On Friday, January 11, 2019, he signed an executive order called “Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment.” This order now earmarks $2.5 billion over the next four years towards restoration and is one billion more than what the state spent over the last four years.
With this executive order the following departments were created within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP):
Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency
Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection
Blue-Green Algae Task Force
The Blue-Green Algae Task Force is charged with finding “sound science” solutions to the red tide and toxic algae flowing from Lake Okeechobee. And finally, the appointment of a Chief Science Officer.
DEP was directed to re-establish a matching grant program to accelerate septic tank conversion as part of the plan. Funding for the plan will tap into the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as well as other sources. All will require annual legislative approvals.
With respect to the South Florida Water Management District (SwiftMud), he instructed them to immediately begin the next phase of the $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee. Due to the SwiftMud Governing Board members granting Florida Crystals an extension of its nearly $1 million-a-year lease to grow sugar on the 16,000 acres that were meant for EAA, he asked for all seven members for their resignations.
For many and especially Congressman Mast of Palm City, the feeling has been, “For too long the South Florida Water Management District has been more accountable to special interests than to the people of Florida.”