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Officials take action on water quality
January 11, 2019

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Florida's elected officials are already setting their sights on algae.

Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on Jan. 10 in Bonita Springs to address the state's environmental crises.

"I think the people of Florida wanted to see action, and this is action that was requested regardless of your party I think this is something that can unite all Floridians," he said before signing Executive Order 19-12, which aims to secure $2.5 billion over the next four years for the protection of water resources.

The order, titled "Achieving More Now For Florida's Environment," also established several new departments and one official position.

DeSantis announced that they will appoint a chief science officer.

"So we're doing sound science, making sure that we're getting ahead of the curve on as many of these issues as possible," he said.

The order also created the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency, the Office of Resiliency and Coastal Protection and a Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

"This task force should support key funding and restoration initiatives to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the downstream estuaries," the order reads.

It also seeks to "update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting South Florida communities."

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said he is impressed to see the governor take action on the issue so quickly after being sworn in on Jan. 8.

"The additional funding is extremely good for Lee County. Until we have the money to actually build the projects that need to be built, it's all talk. Putting the extra money to expedite construction of projects that will redirect the flow of water is probably the most significant part of the order that will help Lee County out," he said.

"The biggest project that I think is called out in the executive order that will benefit Lee County is the C-43 reservoir, and the fact that the executive order is asking for a water treatment component to be developed along with that," Hamman added.

C-43 is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' name for the Caloosahatchee and the project is called the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir.

"The above ground Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir, located in Hendry County, will capture and store stormwater runoff from the C-43 basin and regulatory water releases from Lake Okeechobee, reducing lake discharges reaching the estuary," according to the South Florida Water Management website.

The reservoir would store excess flows and allow them to be released at times that are more beneficial for the estuary.

"If we can keep that project funded, keep that project on track, and make sure the water that ultimately is released from that reservoir is clean, I think those are very important things that were at least contemplated in this executive order," he said.

"It's very important to understand that between now and next summer, they're not going to have any new projects that will be built. These projects are so massive they're pieces of infrastructure that will take years to design, permit and construct," Hamman said.

"There's no guarantee we will have algae next summer, but we need to plan for it and prepare for it like we will. We need to all be ready to handle it. So I was excited to see that in this task force they used the word 'now,' that they're going to be thinking of ways to prepare for the next wet season's algae blooms," he added.

Meanwhile in Washington on Jan. 9, Congressman Francis Rooney introduced an amendment to the Stafford Act that could do that.

The amendment to the act that governs disaster response would officially list algal blooms as a natural disaster, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid in the event of another major algae crisis.

"We must make every effort possible to mitigate harmful effects of red tide and toxic algae and we must also take the steps necessary to eliminate the root causes of these outbreaks - our water quality. I will continue to fight for the resources we need to fix our water," Rooney said in a press release.

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