Holly Raschein hasn’t slowed down since terming out as representative for the Florida Keys in the state House. Moving into the private sector with AshBritt following her time in Tallahassee, she recently found her way back into public service, this time as a county commissioner after Gov. Ron DeSantis picked her to fill the late Mike Forster’s term.
In between preparing for her new role in the Keys, Raschein recently had the opportunity to join experts, scientists and other government officials to discuss an issue on the minds of many Floridians — water.
Raschein said there were many takeaways from the 11th annual Florida Water Forum at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, which was put on by the Associated Industries of Florida from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. Issues surrounding water and environmental policy are critical to Florida’s future, as the forum discussed the connection between sustainable and healthy water sources with the business climate and quality of life in the state.
Out of the forum came a message that time is of the essence as the state deals with serious challenges over water quality. One of the bigger messages she took away was the money needed to deal with everything from Everglades restoration and red tide to building resiliency to deal with sea level rise.
“It’s such a big deal to our state and to the Keys. It was really good to hear that it’s on the front burner and that it’s still very relevant. But it’s very expensive to fix the water woes we have in our state.”
Southeast Florida must continue to balance water supply with environmental needs — both heavily dependent on Lake Okeechobee. Southwest Florida remains wrapped in a water-use caution area and remains vulnerable to saltwater seeping into the aquifer. Central Florida is planning for long-term groundwater shortage while grappling with regulations to address the issue, and north Florida continues to to face issues stemming from its abundant, but impacted, springs.
The legislative session last year saw the state investing $640 million to support efforts to ensure state and local communities are prepared to deal with sea level rise. Of that amount, $12.5 million went to a resilient coastline initiative for resilience projects and coral reef protection. And the $500 million the state received from the federal government will go toward implementation of statewide resilience projects through the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan.
With hundreds of millions of dollars invested last session, more is needed to maintain and grow the resiliency and clean water efforts in the state, Raschein acknowledged.
“We’re going to have to do something to switch how we establish more funding, and I’m not a raise-taxes-type person by any means,” Raschein said. “We have to maybe find a different angle to secure funding.”
Raschein said the forum allowed her to hear about innovative technologies and what’s going on in the private sector to deal with water issues. She also heard from the South Florida Management District and new state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. DeSantis appointed the former U.S. Air Force member who served the DEP for 13 years in late August. Raschein also had the opportunity to moderate some discussion during the water forum.
“Obviously, we’re a little behind in Florida. But it was very encouraging that so many things are happening in talking about resiliency, the coral reefs and what we’re doing down here and what happens in north Florida affects things down here.”
Raschein added that water will remain a priority as she enters her new county commission post. The Oct. 20 Monroe County Board of County Commissioners meeting in Marathon will be her first as commissioner.
“Water, and Florida Bay and the reef restoration, was a priority for Mike,” Raschein said. “It’s easy for me to jumpboard off Mike’s commitment and my previous commitment and take it forward.”