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Everglades Expert: State Must Do Much More To Fix Florida's Water Woes

Everglades National Park
Kirsten Hines
Everglades National Park

The new executive director of the environmental group Friends of the Everglades is not that impressed with Gov. Ron DeSantis' environmental record thus far. 

Earlier this year, the governor granted $625 million to Everglades restoration and water quality projects as part of a proposed $91.3 billion state budget plan.But according to Alex Gillen, the new director, that's not enough.

"I don't think you should be rewarded for doing kind of what you're supposed to do," he said on Sundial. 

Gillen spoke on the show about environmental concerns across the state.  WLRN: When we talk about the issues of the Everglades, a lot of the focus down here has been Lake Okeechobee. What's the focus of developments in the agriculture north of the lake and how that (polluted) water ends up in the lake?

GILLEN: So the Florida legislature is not asleep at the wheel -- they're not [even] in the car. I mean they haven't had a hearing on toxic algal blooms after two states of emergency in 2016 and 2018. Unless the Florida legislature starts getting in the game, holding hearings, finding facts as they're supposed to do, then this problem is not going to be solved. I mean, it is really hard to believe that we could have two states of emergency and we're doing exactly the same thing today as we did then, and really the Florida legislature cannot tell you why these blooms occurred. So, we have to regulate polluters. The way we regulate agriculture pollution north of the lake is not working. Best management practices by the design are involuntary, unenforceable and designed not to cost the businesses any money. That's just not a regime that's working. The data that DEP uses to look at the lake is projected data, it's not real data. We know that the lake is dirty and we know where it's coming from, we're just not doing anything about it.

Talking about the legislature. We have a new governor. What's your take?

I'm not very confident because I don't think you should be rewarded for doing kind of what you're supposed to do. And we have a $91 billion budget and yeah Florida got more money for the Everglades, but not necessarily for the environment. Environmental funding was pretty flat in terms of, you know, checking out whether the Department of Health needed different or new authorities. They didn't really do that. Similarly with DEP, regulating bio solids. You know, a lot of the low hanging fruit they just didn't even come close to. The bottom line is polluting is profitable and the folks that are in elected office on the whole aren't interested in regulating it.

Grassy knoll in the Everglades.
Credit Friends of the Everglades
Grassy knoll in the Everglades.

We're moving into 2020's election process, where do you think (the Everglades) sits with voters right now? How important is it to people, what are you hearing?When President Trump was down a few months ago at the Herbert Hoover Dike in Lake Okeechobee, Senator Rubio said that water was the top issue in Florida right now. And I think that's true. I think most people live in Florida for the environment. So, if you're going to threaten that, if you're going to take away our lifestyle, our livelihoods, then people are going to be upset about it. Additionally, when you look at the issue of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae and the health impacts, it's startling. It's real and our state is not doing what they need to do on it. I mean, if you go to the Department of Health's website today, it will tell you that algal blooms are naturally occurring and that's true, but not as they're working now. These algal blooms, it's actually a bacteria, are proliferating at a higher rate.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

During her time at Florida International University, where she recently graduated from with a Bachelors in Journalism, Sherrilyn Cabrera interned for the South Florida News Service - a digital journalism platform where stories are written, shot and edited by FIU students. As part of her senior project, she reported on the influx of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida after Hurricane Maria, and the impact it could have had on the November 2018 midterm elections.
Alejandra Martinez is the associate producer for WLRN&rsquo's Sundial. Her love for radio started at her mother’s beauty shop where she noticed that stories are all around her - important stories to tell.