Friends of the Everglades State Legislative Priorities: 2024
About Friends of the Everglades:
Friends of the Everglades was founded in 1969 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a driving force behind the creation of Everglades National Park and author of The Everglades:River of Grass. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to preserving the only Everglades in the world, we have identified the following priorities for the 2024 session of the Florida Legislature.
Reject any attempt to preempt local authority on wetlands. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett vs. EPA imperils crucial wetlands throughout the nation. The potential for harm is especially acute in Florida, where almost one-third of the state consists of wetlands. The Supreme Court dramatically weakened the federal Clean Water Act by ruling in May 2023 that wetlands must have a “continuous surface connection” to streams, oceans, rivers or lakes to qualify for protection. Florida’s state protections for wetlands are regarded as rigorous, but some counties, recognizing the important role wetlands play in flood prevention and water quality, have implemented additional protections. The state must respect those local decisions by rejecting any proposal to preempt local regulation of wetlands, while safeguarding existing state-level protections.
Decomposing fish are scattered along the shores of Sanibel Island on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Fish kills have been reported from Naples to the Tampa Bay area following post-Hurricane Ian red tide blooms.
2. Get serious about toxic algae
Implement scientific recommendations to address Florida’s algae crisis. The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force and Harmful Algal Bloom/Red Tide Task Force issued reports in 2019 and 2020, respectively, but Florida policymakers have failed to implement the majority of their recommendations. With toxic algae now a perennial and worsening problem, Florida cannot wait any longer to take decisive action. Urgent action is needed to:
End the “presumption of compliance” for agricultural landowners, which are not adequate to ensure Best Management Practices are working to curtail pollution.
Require periodic septic tank inspections.
Ensure that all “innovative technologies” utilized to kill/dissipate toxic algae blooms have been thoroughly studied and tested to ensure they are safe.
3. Fix our failing BMAP’s
Update BMPs and toughen enforcement to meet pollution-reduction goals. Florida’s Basin Management Action Plans, or BMAPs, are developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to reduce nutrient pollution in impaired water bodies. Unfortunately, many of these plans are failing to meet pollution-reduction milestones; in some cases, nutrient pollution actually increased after the BMAPs were implemented. In response, FDEP in many cases has kicked the can down the road by extending the deadlines to meet the goals. Florida lawmakers should fix BMAPs by embracing the following strategies:
End “presumption of compliance” granted to agricultural landowners enrolled in Best Management Practices (BMPs). Boost compliance funding for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which conducts on-site inspections to ensure farmers are complying with BMPs, and validate inspection data.
Review BMPs and amend them as necessary when science indicates there are more effective methods of reducing nutrient pollution.
Stop granting BMAP credit for intangibles such as “education” programs that cannot be documented to reduce actual pollution.
Step up enforcement, making a concerted effort to identify the specific sources of pollution and correct the problem.
Hold FDEP accountable when the BMAPs fail to meet pollution reduction goals.
4. Don’t ban fertilizer bans
County/municipal fertilizer ordinances are key to improved water quality: Across Florida, 18 counties and more than 100 municipalities have implemented “strong” fertilizer ordinances with summer blackout periods. Research has repeatedly shown nutrients washed into waterways in the wake of heavy summer storms can be traced to fertilizers, and regulating the use of fertilizers is one of the simplest things counties/municipalities can do to limit nutrient pollution.
Unfortunately, a legislative maneuver late in the 2023 session resulted in a one-year ban on new “strong” fertilizer ordinances across Florida as IFAS studied the efficacy of such ordinances. This research should not be used to justify legislative attempts to weaken or eliminate such ordinances, or preempt local governments from adopting them, as the results could harm water quality throughout the state. Accordingly:
Any attempt to weaken existing “strong” fertilizer ordinances must be rejected.
Any attempt to preempt local governments’ ability to enact such ordinances must be denied.
5. Smarter, controlled development
Re-strengthen the state’s role in growth management. Florida’s 1985 passage of the Growth Management Act was a milestone for smart planning. Much of that progress was unraveled with passage of the 2011 Community Planning Act, which effectively gutted growth management in Florida, eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs and removing crucial checks and balances over local planning decisions. In more recent years, the Legislature has penalized citizens who try to enforce their communities’ comprehensive plans.
Florida needs to re-establish the bipartisan consensus for a common-sense state role in growth management. To do so, it must:
Re-establish the Department of Community Affairs or create a similar agency.
Empower regional planning councils to play a more robust role in proposed changes to local comprehensive plans.
Remove limitations on the state’s ability to object to and challenge bad amendments to local comprehensive plans.
Renew the law’s prior protections for rural and environmentally sensitive lands.
Repeal penalties levied on local citizens who bring legitimate but ultimately unsuccessful challenges to questionable development approvals.
6. Stop sugarcane burning
Phase out pre-harvest burning. Sugarcane growers regularly burn fields to facilitate harvest in Florida, causing smoke and ash to blanket nearby communities, which contributes to health problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Sugarcane burning represents an environmental injustice, disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color in the Glades region. This outdated practice must be phased and growers required to transition to safer “green” harvesting.
7. Send more clean water south
Acquire more land for Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs). Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee remain a periodic threat to the Caloosahatchee River, St. Lucie River, and Lake Worth Lagoon; high water levels threaten the ecology of the lake itself, and the southern Everglades and Florida Bay still don’t receive enough clean freshwater. The new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) will reduce, but not end, discharges. Meanwhile, significant scientific questions have been raised about the effectiveness and design of the $4 billion EAA Reservoir project. It’s clear more land is needed to create additional capacity to store water, clean it, and move it south to rehydrate the southern Everglades. Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences has concluded more man-made wetlands may be needed so phosphorus levels in water sent to the Everglades meet court-ordered limits.
With that in mind:
The state must acquire additional lands in the EAA to create additional man-made wetlands called Stormwater Treatment Areas (or STAs).
Capacity in the existing 62,000 acres of STAs should be prioritized to protect public health and the environment — not large industrial sugarcane growers.