Florida's DeSantis signs bill to help preserve Indian River Lagoon

By Andrew Powell | The Center Square Contributor
Indian River Lagoon in eastern Florida.
Indian River Lagoon in eastern Florida. Bryan Buonpastore / Shutterstock

(The Center Square) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law this week that will help protect Florida’s water resources and support conservation efforts in the Sunshine State.

House Bill 1379 was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Steele, R-Hudson, and Rep.Tobin Overdorf, R-Stuart, and will create designated funding for the state’s conservation efforts as part of DeSantis’ common sense conservation agenda.

The Indian River Lagoon is one of North America’s most biologically diverse estuaries. Under the measuresigned by DeSantis on Tuesday, it will have enhanced protections with a $100 million fund to improve water quality and establish the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program.

Aggressive restoration efforts are happening in the Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park to remove invasive plants and reintroduce native species. The mangrove wetlands of the park provide natural filtering of salt marshes and protect the shorelines from erosion.

The bill expands the existing wastewater grant program while strengthening Basin Management Action Plans and coordination with stakeholders and local governments.

In a news release, DeSantis stated that he had exceeded his goals to protect Florida’s natural resources. In 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order to implement protections for Florida’s environment immediately.

“In Florida, our natural resources are the foundation of our way of life and a large driver of the economy. With this legislation, we are building on the progress we have made in water quality protection and land conservation, ensuring that we leave Florida better to God than we found it for future generations,” DeSantis said.

New requirements for septic systems are also in the bill to protect water quality and help restore the lagoon. Eligibility requirements for the Wastewater Grant Program will be expanded to include stormwater, agriculture and all bodies of water below water quality standards.

Local governments will be tasked with identifying projects that will improve water quality and help reduce nutrient content, including implementing protections from septic systems and water treatment facilities. Comprehensive plans must include the feasibility of certain areas having septic systems over sewer systems. Existing systems must also be upgraded to an advanced wastewater treatment system.

A dedicated $100 million annually has been allocated to the Florida Forever Program, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

The Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said in the news release that under the leadership of DeSantis and the Florida Legislature that the state has made great strides in environmental protection and land conservation.

“This legislation will allow us to further expedite and advance these efforts,” Hamilton said.

Chief Science Officer Mark Rains said in the news release that the legislation expedites restoration by directing strategic action to address nutrient sources.

“With the signing of House Bill 1379, Governor DeSantis is both renewing and expanding upon his commitment to protecting and restoring our water quality statewide, with a much-needed focus on some of our most at-risk waters in the Everglades and the Indian River Lagoon,” Rains said.

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