Op-ed by: Florida Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli
One of Florida’s most precious resources is water. Our state is world renowned for our 1,200 miles of beaches, springs, and more than 7,700 large lakes. Yet Florida’s water supply is more than just a tourist attraction – it’s also the heart of our agriculture industry and the source of drinking water we all depend upon to live our lives.
Water is so essential to our existence, yet water policy is often overlooked or tackled in a parochial manner: neither approach is right. To ignore the growing demand for and the quality of our supply leaves our state incredibly vulnerable. Focusing on one community at a time in a piecemeal approach can lead to new problems in another down the road.
As an example, look no further than South Florida’s recent challenges. This year, the region faced one of the rainiest summers on record. To reduce the chance of flooding, excess fresh water from Lake Okeechobee was pumped into South Florida estuaries. While this addressed the immediate problem of relieving pressure on the dike maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it also upset fragile coastal ecosystems downstream and negatively impacted the local economies.
Rightly, local public officials at every level mobilized to address the problem. Many of the ideas that have come out of the taskforce spearheaded by Senator Joe Negron correctly consider the state as a whole and the connectivity of our waterways. But, with emotions high and attention so focused on one region, there is a need to guard against tunnel vision and focusing exclusively on one problem to the detriment of others.
It is why I am calling on policy makers on every level to embrace three principles as we look for water policy solutions and establish water funding priorities. First, as we deliberate on water issues, we must do so through the lens of a comprehensive, statewide approach to protect the long-term health of Florida’s water ecosystems. Water has no boundaries, and it is imperative that policy makers, opinion leaders, and the public reject a limited parochial view.
There are issues across the state, from the Northern Indian River Lagoon, located in the legislative district I represent, to the Apalachicola River, to our freshwater springs, and I intend to see that each of them gets attention
Secondly, Florida’s water management policy must be flexible so that water managers can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. In a state that is annually in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms, where the average doorstep is only 100 feet above sea level, and where the decisions of neighboring states can harm our water supply, having an effective water management strategy is critical for our survival.
Third, we must attack our water needs with long term and short term strategies. Water management strategy is not enough. We must also continue to invest in proactive measures to effectively deal with our immediate water quality issues. During the prolonged economic downturn, our state pulled back on funding local water projects. As the fiscal outlook improves, I believe it is critical that we reengage our partnership with local governments to strategically invest in projects that will improve our overall water supply and quality, such as the Everglades restoration bill we passed this year.
The 2014 Legislative Session is approaching, and the Legislature must work with Governor Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, and the water management districts to craft a smart, comprehensive water policy for our state. As a growing population, weather events, and even decisions by neighboring states strain our water resources, it is imperative we have a comprehensive plan in place to protect water quality and access for all Floridians, not just today, but for generations to come.
Rep. Steve Crisafulli resides in Merritt Island, Florida. He serves as the House Majority Leader and was designated by his peers to be the Republican Speaker of the House for the 2014-2015 Legislative Sessions.