As a native Floridan, I have always taken issue with Florida’s nickname, The Sunshine State. While officially adopted by the Florida legislature in 1970, four years before my birth, growing up in 1970’s Miami I always thought we should be the Water State. After all, back in my day when the curriculum afforded time to teaching Florida history, we learned about how our state emerged from water and how its thousands of years underwater had created layers of limestone from clay and the erosion of the Appalachian Mountains that eventually created our aquifers.
Surrounded by mangroves and citrus groves, and many a fieldtrip to the Everglades my generation read Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ Everglades, River of Grass and were taught that being a Floridian centered around water exclusion and containment. We learned about our aquifers, the Floridian and the Biscayne and how these worked like sponges which moved water beneath us. We learned that the Floridan aquifer stretched 82,000 square miles beneath Florida and reached parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Growing up in Florida we watched as our home went from a sleepy tourist destination to a year-round tourist-dependent metropolis. We knew that tourists and transplants were drawn to our beaches and that water was at the center of our economy. And while the tourism industry pushed sunshine, the natives knew that when you do the math, we get way more rain and storm clouds than sunshine.
Sadly, under Governor Rick Scott, who is notably not a native Floridian, water issues were made partisan by both republicans and democrats who in so doing revealed their lack of knowledge about Florida history. Then came 2018, when Southwest Florida waters became toxic as a result of blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River which in conjunction with the red tide outbreak in the Gulf of Mexico reminded us that every Floridian, regardless of party affiliation, wants clean water.
Earlier this week Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Stuart and Bonita Springs to launch www.protectingfloridatogether.gov, a website that provides Floridians with information on water quality. Part of the Governor’s ongoing focus on water regulation and transparency, the website follows his mandate that the Caloosahatchee River reservoir (a/k/a C-43) have a water quality component, his creation of the Blue Green Algae Commission and DeSantis’ commitment to regulating septic tanks and annual inspections of county and municipality run water treatment plants.
And while the initial information on the site is limited to Caloosahatchee River, St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee, the Governor should be commended for making water quality the non-partisan priority that it should be in Florida and for recognizing that the inspiration for the website was his wife, Cassey DeSantis. At the press conference the first lady of Florida spoke on the importance of clean water and cited Florida’s tourism numbers but ended with a nod to all the mothers she had met on the campaign trial who were concerned about how Florida’s water quality could impact their children.
Currently the site contains information on active blue-green algae blooms, red tide conditions and information on how the public can volunteer in their local area. In Miami-Dade County we hope that they will also add the findings of the Biscayne Bay Task Force, information on disaster impact that septic tanks and ocean outfall is having on our water system and how Floridians can contact their local elected officials and demand compliance with Federal and State law on water and sewer infrastructure. Maybe then we can ask our legislators to change our state nickname to the Clean Water State because after all when it comes to water, we all agree on Protecting Florida Together.
Raquel Regalado is an attorney and former member of the Miami-Dade County School Board.