Governor Ron DeSantis received a record $112 billion budget from the 2022 Florida Legislature. Each legislative session, the state budget is the only bill the Legislature is required to pass and the bill the governor must sign each year to fund the state’s schools, law enforcement, transportation, health care, state agencies, and variety of other services to support the Floridians. .
However, with the passage of the state budget each year, legislators propose special local projects that may not have gone through the statutory or legislative budget allocation processes. For example, Florida TaxWatch flagged a $25,000 Nygen Buggy Collection project to pitch 32 horse-drawn buggies in Seminole County as a “budget turkey” that should be cut. DeSantis has the prerogative to veto such off-budget projects with his pen before signing it.
DeSantis and the Legislature have earmarked record funding to address Florida’s water pollution problems and reduce algal blooms, fish kills, manatee die-offs, and ecosystem collapse.
To support the Governor’s environmental agenda, the Legislature also passed budgets to provide more support for Florida’s environmental agencies and pass comprehensive water bills, such as the Clean Waterways Act, to improve water quality and reduce the proliferation of harmful algae. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-Indialantic) and signed into law by DeSantis in July 2020, created a special wastewater grant program to help solve the $16 billion wastewater infrastructure problem. dollars in Florida, a major contributor to Florida’s water pollution problems. Each summer, local city and county governments can apply for these grants.
Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and DeSantis awarded more than 100 local project awards worth more than $400 million for wastewater treatment infrastructure projects aimed at upgrade sewage treatment plants and upgrade polluting septic tanks. These grants are awarded by the FDEP to prioritize infrastructure improvements adjacent to Florida’s “impaired waters” that are subject to the federal regulatory mandate of the EPA and FDEP to reduce pollution loads, restore seagrass beds, and ultimately save the hungry manatees.
But this year, the Florida Legislature earmarked 243 water projects worth $368 million outside of the FDEP budget. According to Florida TaxWatch, these are among more than 1,200 “budget turkey” projects worth nearly $3 billion.
Of these 243 water project applications, the 83 wastewater infrastructure projects worth $125 million are expected to apply through the FDEP wastewater grant program. There are also 130 applications for general water infrastructure and resilience projects worth over $150 million that are expected to be awarded either under the $188 million from the budget, either from the $35 million Small Government Water Infrastructure Program or the $25 million Rural Infrastructure Fund. Additionally, FDEP’s Resilient Florida program has successfully funded programs in the state’s coastal counties to support and protect local infrastructure from sea level rise, flooding, and other impacts associated with climate change. climatic.
Finally, there are costly legislative budget requests for local waterway restoration projects that are not compatible with ecosystem restoration in the FDEP’s Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). For example, Brevard County requested $12 million for mud dredging in canals near the Indian River Lagoon. The FDEP’s BMAP IRL states that spoil dredging is “neither cost-effective nor time-efficient” as a nutrient removal strategy.
There are also millions of requests from members for shell and seagrass planting projects in waterways where the water quality is so degraded that project failure is most likely. Alternatively, the FDEP should continue to fund its nutrient pollution load reduction projects that will create conditions conducive to the natural recovery of aquatic resources. In Tampa and Sarasota Bay, seagrass beds and shells have returned to 1950s levels following the implementation of sewage treatment infrastructure projects, where improved water quality conditions the water has promoted the recovery of marine life.
DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are to be commended for their prodigious support for water-related infrastructure projects in the 2022 budget. As DeSantis signs the budget into law, he should protect the interests of Floridians by resisting the temptation of the Legislative Assembly to circumvent the authority of the executive agency of the FDEP, which must responsibly arbitrate the financial support of these water projects. The health of Florida’s waterways, including thousands of starving manatees, depends on his careful use of the veto pen.
Dr. Peter Barile is an environmental scientist and the president of Marine Research & Consulting. He is based in Melbourne.