"What we know is that during this legislative session or any other legislative session, if we do not make the elected officials do what we demand, then they won't," said Cris Costello, a regional organizer for the Sierra Club, which has signed onto a statewide campaign that aims to build public demand for better water quality and resource management. "They will take the easy way out and remain in status quo mode."
It's unclear how the House would receive bipartisan legislation that would set a firm timeframe for cleaning up Florida's most polluted springs, identify the septic tanks and other sources of that pollution and establish an ongoing funding source for those projects. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is one of five lawmakers now working on the bill in the Senate.
Scott wants to spend $55 million in the coming year to restore and protect Florida's long-suffering springs. "I think we're looking for more money than that this year to get started," Simpson said.
Scott also has pledged $130 million in the upcoming budget for Everglades projects, including restoration of the Kissimmee River that drains into South Florida's wetlands, construction of a storm-water treatment plant for Martin and St. Lucie counties and reconstruction of the Tamiami Trail to allow water to freely flow south.
Environmental groups have criticized state officials for slashing funding for conservation purchases as well as Florida's invocation of states' rights in joining a friend-of-the-court brief challenging a cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay. Also missing from this year's water proposals, they say, is any discussion of stopping water pollution at its source: farms, septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants.
"Do we need money for cleanup and restoration? Yes, but in order for those projects to work you have to stop the source of the pollution," Costello said. She called Scott's budget proposals "a political ploy in an election season to make it look like he's doing something."
Audubon Florida officials point to Lake Okeechobee as an example of what happens when pollution isn't addressed at the source. It's the focus of competing interests: Environmentalists want to preserve its resources; the corps uses it for flood control; the state wants it for South Florida's water supply; and the agriculture industry views it as a reservoir. Repeated costly cleanups have been needed in and around the lake because water hasn't been stored or cleaned elsewhere. Meanwhile, pollution continues to flow into the watersheds in quantities that exceed standards the state set for the lake.
"With all the repeated high-water and low-water problems on the lake, and the estuary dumps, and all the pollution, and all the water shortages — you know, we're going to have to spend a lot of money to fix it. If we don't, this is going to be our life, and it's going to get nothing but worse with more and more people (moving to Florida)," said Paul Gray, science coordinator for Audubon Florida's Lake Okeechobee program. "If this isn't important to people — this is going to be our life, really? It's going to be this bad?"
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