Governor DeSantis just signed into law SB 712 - the self-proclaimed “Clean Waterways Act” – an ambitious misnomer for a bill that claims to be the solution to our mounting water quality issues, but falls far short of that mark.

This bill has been praised by its supporters as one of the most environmentally progressive pieces of legislation in over a decade. But that really isn’t saying much, given the cuts and rollbacks that our environmental regulations suffered under the last state administration. At 111 pages, the bill largely pays lip service to most of Florida’s major sources of pollution, but lacks the specificity and enforceability to actually solve any of the problems.

Proponents of the bill claim that it implements recommendations of the Blue Green Algae Task Force, but even those common sense, albeit vague recommendations of the state’s own water experts are not meaningfully addressed by SB 712. For example, the Task Force recommended that projected changes in population, land use, and hydrology should be incorporated into the state pollution reduction program.

Think about it. Florida’s population grows by 1,000 people each and every day, creating additional strain to our already-stressed natural resources. In order for a clean-up program to be successful, it needs to anticipate these changes and incorporate a plan to deal with them; otherwise it is destined to fail. Unfortunately, SB 712 ignores the common sense recommendations and doubles down on the ineffective system that has resulted in the water quality crisis that we are in today.

With regard to public health, the Task Force recommended that the state establish defensible health advisories and water quality criteria for cyanotoxins and implement a communication plan to inform the public about the potential health risks associated with exposure to toxic algae. Despite the harmful algae blooms that have already begun to plague our waterways this summer and the inconsistent and ineffective signage to warn users of their danger, this was not addressed by SB 712 either.

SB 712 will very likely simply kick the pollution can down the road for another decade. It hardly deserves the title “Clean Waterways Act.”

Submitted on behalf of Waterkeepers Florida

Waterkeepers Florida is a regional entity composed of all 13 Waterkeeper organizations working in the State of Florida to protect and restore our water resources across over 45,000 square miles of watershed, which is home to over 15 million Floridians. For more information, visit www.WaterkeepersFlorida.org.