BONITA SPRINGS, FLORIDA — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order 23-06 to continue efforts to protect Florida’s environment and water quality. The order – which includes directing a whopping $3.5 billion to improvement projects – is focused on strategic action, accountability, sound science, progress, and collaboration.
On the four-year anniversary of his Executive Order 19-12 – also known as “Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment” – the governor sets out his boldest environmental agenda yet to move water south, reduce harmful discharges, and improve water quality.
“Four years ago, I promised to pursue a bold agenda and to commit to lead Florida into a new era of stewardship for Florida’s natural resources, and we delivered,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Bonita Springs. “Today, I am proud to announce the next step in this administration’s continued dedication to Florida’s treasured environment.”
During the governor’s first term, more than 50 Everglades restoration projects were completed. The new executive order directs funding and further restoration that will continue the momentum of the governor’s commitment to the environment and the protection of water resources for all Floridians. Funding would surpass the historic investment made over the past four years and is the highest level of funding for the environment in Florida’s history.
“There is no doubt Governor DeSantis’ commitment to the Everglades in his first term was monumental, but the commitment he has made to the Everglades and the environment in the newly signed executive order is unquestionably historic,” Anna Upton, CEO of the Everglades Trust tells The Florida Standard.
“Time and time again, Governor DeSantis makes promises, and he delivers on those promises. If his first term is any indication of what he can accomplish, Floridians and the great state of Florida will see a historic commitment become a reality,” Upton added.
WATER FLOW AND EVERGLADES RESTORATION
Prior to the 1900s, water in the Everglades flowed down the Kissimmee River, overflowed the banks of Lake Okeechobee, and slowly moved across South Florida until it reached Florida Bay. But in the early 1900s, the Everglades were drained and water was rerouted by a series of pumps, canals and levees. More than half of the Everglades’ original wetlands were lost.
The water flow that previously filled Lake Okeechobee, and overflowed at the southern lip, was rerouted for decades before modern restoration efforts were established. That water is largely sent out to sea along the St. Lucie canals and Caloosahatchee estuaries, leaving the southern Everglades starved for freshwater. But Floridians in South Florida need the water, and so many plants and wildlife species depend on it as well.
Under the governor’s direction, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) continues to expedite a comprehensive Everglades restoration program under the governor’s direction. The SFWMD will have funding to continue essential restoration projects, including the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project. More will be done to ensure that Lake Okeechobee sends more water south, reducing discharges to St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
RESTORATION OF THE INDIAN RIVER LAGOON
The National Estuary Program, St Johns River Water Management District, Brevard County, and local cities surrounding the Indian River Lagoon have been working for decades on stormwater improvements. New technology has emerged to improve both stormwater and wastewater utilities. Projects will focus on reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that seeps into the lagoon by homes and businesses.
MORE FUNDING FOR STATEWIDE RESILIENCE
Dr. Wes Brooks, Florida’s Chief Resilience Officer, said that Floridians should expect even more ambitious action to harden the state’s resistance to flooding and storm adaptation, including the launch of a cutting-edge restoration and recovery initiative for Florida’s coral reef. The Florida Standard sat down with Dr. Brooks just before Hurricane Ian made landfall to talk about the State’s resiliency plans for the future.
“When it comes to protecting Florida’s environment and enhancing the resilience of our communities, Governor DeSantis has already amassed one of the most consequential tenures in the state’s history,” Dr. Brooks said. “I’m excited to get to work delivering on the governor’s bold commitments and inspiring vision for Florida’s future.”
EXPANDING THE FLORIDA WILDLIFE CORRIDOR
In April 2021, lawmakers unanimously passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, securing $400 million to protect natural land. The Wildlife Corridor is not one giant piece of land but consists of natural areas interconnected throughout the state – a total of nearly 18 million acres of green space, such as national parks, state forests, rivers, and streams.
The governor’s plan would expedite the state’s land conservation efforts, including a focus on more acquisitions within the Wildlife Corridor, where almost half of the land is made up of working farms, including millions of acres of ranchland and timberland that serve as sustainable agricultural property.
“Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership and with the support of the Florida Legislature, the state has taken unprecedented steps to effectively address our most pressing environmental issues,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “With this renewed support and direction, Florida’s environment will remain a priority and we will continue to have the resources to bolster our long-term environmental programs and meet the needs of our diverse state.”