By Brendan Farrington Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis began following up on a campaign promise to make the environment a priority by signing an order Thursday seeking to tackle Florida's problems with blue-green algae in its rivers and red tide off its coast.
DeSantis signed the order in Bonita Springs in southwest Florida, one of the areas where slimy algae has coated waterways because of pollutants flowing downstream from Lake Okeechobee.
"I pledged I would take action, and today we are taking action," DeSantis said. "What we've done is really, really strong ... I think this is something that can unite all Floridians."
DeSantis said he will seek $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and water resources. The order not only touches on algae problems, but rising sea levels and the ongoing battle with Georgia over water diverted for Atlanta's use instead of flowing downstream to Apalachicola Bay.
The reduction of fresh water entering the bay has hurt the region's oyster industry.
He didn't say where the money would come from, and his office didn't immediately respond when asked about the funding. Late in the day, DeSantis demanded the resignations of all nine members of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees the Everglades area. The board in November extended a lease with sugar farmers for land needed for a reservoir that is key to water purification efforts, angering DeSantis.
While critics often said DeSantis' predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, ignored science and rising sea levels, DeSantis addressed it on his second full day in office. He is creating an Office of Resiliency tasked with protecting coastal communities and wildlife from sea level rise.
"As we've seen things like increased flooding [and] rising waters, we want to make sure that Florida is doing what it needs to do to protect its communities," DeSantis said.
The order also directs the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health and the tourism agency Visit Florida to work together to address algae problems. He is creating the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency and a new position called chief science officer.
One of the priorities will be to reduce nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee and to treat them before they flow downstream, where algae feeds off the pollutants.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tours the area's waterways Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at Florida Gulf Coast University's Vester Marine and Environmental Research Field Station in Bonita Springs, where he signed an order addressing problems with algae that have plagued the state. (Andrew West / AP)
Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson had questions about DeSantis’ actions.
"Will he turn to the Trump Administration? Or will he be seeking help from the Legislature? Can our state budget handle this increase? Is the plan to cut into other programs to raise the needed funds? Will Floridians lose services in one area to offset the costs for water cleanup?" Gibson said in a news release.
She did, however, praise the intent behind the order.
"We share the urgency for cleaning up our water and our environment; it's been a top priority of ours for many years. The policies of the past administration have taken a terrible toll on our natural resources, to say nothing of the impact on our marine life," Gibson said. "But an executive order has to have more than just lofty goals, or admirable pursuits. It has to have the details we need to judge whether these goals are doable."
The order also creates the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency.
It also directs the Department of Environmental Protection to appoint a chief science officer to research and analyze environmental concerns.