The first full day of Ron DeSantis’ tenure as Governor, he announced his plan to spend $2.5 billion on water quality over four years. As he unveiled the environmental budget for the last year of his term, he’s hoping that four-year number can exceed $3 billion.
“That will be double what had been done the previous four years before I took office,” he said. “That shows the extent of that commitment, shows the extent of what we’re doing.”
The Governor called for more than $1.5 billion in the next budget for water and resiliency in total.
Budget highlights include $660 million for Everglades restoration, $500 million for coastal resiliency grants to battle rising sea tide, intense storms and flooding, $175 million for targeted water quality projects including wastewater improvement efforts, $50 million for springs, $40 million for alternative water supply grants and $35 million to combat harmful algal blooms (including $15 million in innovative technology spending alone), $50 million for resiliency planning and coral reef protection, and $3 million for battling Burmese python population growth.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said the plan shows an exciting commitment to protecting and restoring Florida’s ecology.
“I don’t know if I could pick a better time to be Secretary,” he said.
He also promised further investment in the removal of invasive pythons from the Everglades, including the potential deployment of new drone technology to better hunt the large snakes.
It’s an ambitious plan, and it’s not yet clear how it fits into the Governor’s full proposed budget, which he plans to roll out at a later date.
The press conference announcing the budget also served as a victory lap, as DeSantis boasted of environmental investments made on his watch.
“There’s so many times where people will campaign for office or get in offices and they’ll say all these things, and then they never follow through on it,” DeSantis said. “We see that all the time. And when I ran, I said we’re going to make this a priority. When I got in office, I outlined a bold vision. We set the targets very, very high. And I’m pleased to say with our recommendations and as we work with the Legislature, and into next year’s Legislative Session, we will not only have kept the promises and met the standards that we set, we will have exceeded what we promised.”
Environmental groups, including Captains for Clean Water, attended the event in support.
“We’ve seen this money that the Governor is spending on Everglades restoration, It’s not only a record, but it’s also directed exactly where it’s needed,” said Daniel Andrews, the group’s executive director. “I think that’s something that we hadn’t really seen in the past.”
That was one of numerous comparisons, some made by the Governor directly, to DeSantis’ environmental commitment and that of former Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican now serving in the U.S. Senate. DeSantis also noted that when he took office, red tide had just ravaged the coastline under his predecessor.
Notably, the press conference Tuesday was held at Rookery Bay in Collier County, Scott’s home county.
The Governor’s proposed spending serves as a recommendation, but the Florida Legislature will be the final arbiter on what gets budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year.
DeSantis also spoke about the ongoing discussions within the Army Corps of Engineers on a discharge schedule for Lake Okeechobee. He stressed the state can offer input, but the federal government ultimately has the final say. But he said there has been progress limiting discharges that harm coastal communities through blue-green algae releases that potentially feed red tide.
“We’re working with the Corps on all that, but we’re also building the types of infrastructure where these discharges hopefully will not even be necessary in the future,” he said, referencing construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to collect excess waters now poured into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
Political and environmental leaders praised the budget from an economic and ecological viewpoint.
“The historic momentum for the Everglades continues,” said Chauncey Goss, chair of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. “Governor DeSantis’ calls for significant investment in Everglades restoration and water quality demonstrates the Governor’s leadership and commitment to Florida’s natural resources. These investments will allow the South Florida Water Management District to expedite and finish more projects than ever before. With record funding from the Legislature, we will continue to do everything we can to send water south to the Everglades, reduce harmful discharges to our estuaries, and improve how water is managed for the people of South Florida.”
“In Florida, our environment is the foundation of everything from our economy to our way of life,” said Chief Science Officer Mark Rains. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the Governor’s continued leadership and commitment to securing necessary funding to address our complex water quality and coastal resiliency challenges and implement a strategic course of action that leads to a more secure and resilient future.”
“Governor DeSantis has been a champion for the Everglades and the environment from his first day in office,” saidFish and Wildlife Commission Chair Rodney Barreto. “The budget he announced today will significantly enhance our ability to remove even more pythons from the Everglades as we work together to conserve this natural treasure.”