Capt. Xavier Figueredo is very pleased with Florida’s new governor, straight out of the gate.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis hit the ground with both feet running,” said Figueredo, a Florida Bay Forever board member. “The promises he made on the day after inauguration are incredible. In fact, that the Everglades is one of the first things he’s talked about is encouraging.”
Gov. DeSantis was sworn in on Jan. 8. On Jan. 10, he released a five-point plan for major water quality reform in Florida. And on the same day, he asked for the resignations of the 11-member board of the South Florida Water Management District.
“He’s made the environment a priority, and that’s obviously a huge priority of mine,” said state Rep. Holly Raschein. “I think everybody should be encouraged by his stance, but I also want people to understand that we are not going to flip a switch [and reverse damage to the Everglades]. We have to have reasonable expectations.”
By his actions, however, Gov. DeSantis has made it clear to Florida that this is a pressing concern.
“That’s why … I am taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities,” Gov. DeSantis said in a statement.
The executive order calls for:
- $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources.
- Establishment of a Blue-Green Algae Task Force charged with expediting progress.
- Instruction to the South Florida Water Management District to begin work immediately on the Everglade3s Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project.
- The creation of the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency charged with integrating scientific research and analysis to ensure all agency actions are on the same page.
- The appointment of a Chief Science Officer to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis with Florida’s most pressing problems.
Raschein said the appointment of a chief science officer is critical.
“With a scientific solution in place, it removes party politics. We need to follow the science and get the right solution and funding in place as quickly as possible,” she said.
The order also addresses other details like expediting the work on the C-44 and C-43 reservoirs, both key Everglades projects, and taking action to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.
Insiders say the new SFWMD board is in response to a November 2018 vote, just days after the election, to extend the lease of a parcel where the largest reservoir in Florida is set to be built. Gov. DeSantis sent an envoy — U.S. Congressman Brian Mast — to the meeting to ask the board to delay the vote. They didn’t. Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg was one of the first to protest the SFWMD actions and applaud DeSantis’ commitment to not only starting the Everglades restoration project, but finishing key portions of it early, including the estimated $1.5 billion reservoir just south of Lake Okeechobee.
“After decades of delay, Gov. DeSantis has today placed Florida on a trajectory to complete the EAA Reservoir, not in 10 years, but in four,” Eikenberg said. “He has clearly heard the cries of Floridians who have had enough of perennial algae outbreaks, and to scientists and engineers who confirm that construction of the reservoir will reduce algae-causing Lake Okeechobee discharges by more than half. We applaud him for directing the state’s resources to immediately commence design of the reservoir, with construction to begin on schedule.”