Finally, Some Hope To Save Our Manatees, Fishes, and Birds

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2023

Previous Hoots have sounded the alarm that we need to support improving our Indian River Lagoon (IRL), St. Sebastian River, and our manatees, fishes, and birds. Finally, there is some recent positive efforts by Gov. DeSantis who, on January 10, 2023, issued an Executive Order Number 23-06  ( recommitting to make our Lagoon and Everglades a priority for restoration. 

While $3.5 billion over the next four years is for Everglades restoration and protection of our water resources, including water quality and water supply, Gov. DeSantis also directed the DEP to identify and prioritize strategies and projects to expedite water-quality restoration in the IRL.  He will be working with the Legislature to establish the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program, and secure at least $100 million annually for priority projects to improve water quality in the IRL by reducing nutrient contribution from septic tanks and wastewater facilities, stormwater discharges, and agriculture non-point sources.

The order states “Partner with the Department of Economic Opportunity and local governments to improve local government long-term comprehensive planning that ensures sustainable growth while protecting our natural resources, including prioritizing sewer connections and advanced wastewater systems that can sustain increased population demands and protecting taxpayer investments in Everglades restoration projects and major land conservation and water quality protection programs.”

Further, the Corps of Engineers should ensure that the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) is implemented in a manner that reduces harmful discharges into our estuaries by holding water in the Lake during the wet season and sending more water south to benefit the environment, the Everglades, and meet the needs of our communities.  This should help the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the IRL by stopping polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee and allow seagrasses to grow again, providing habitat for our wildlife, including manatees, turtles, and fishes.

“Best Management Practices” (BMPs) for agriculture should be enforced and not just recommended to help our environment. Hopefully this will also improve the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), which has been a disappointment.  

A very important issue must be the search for matching funds in the annual funding for the Florida Forever Program to match our recent Bond Issue. That will expedite the state’s land-conservation efforts, including a strategic focus on acquisitions within the Wildlife Corridor, and acquisitions that benefit vulnerable ecosystems, water quality, and resilience.  In November, Indian River County voters approved by 78.2%, the third Land Conservation Bond Referendum in 30 years, for $50 M to conserve our remaining natural lands.  With huge  population growth and development pressure in our county, we will be in great position to leverage these bonds funds with state and federal grants to purchase the last of these valuable natural lands, especially in the Wildlife Corridor.  

Following up on the Governor’s initiative, Indian River County Commissioner Laura Moss has requested our State Senator Erin Grall and State Representative Robert Brackett to support a minimum of $100M for Florida Forever DEP-State Lands, $100M for Florida Wildlife Corridor, and $50M for the Florida Communities Trust.

Hopefully Senator Grall, Representative Brackett, and our State Legislature and agencies will come through with the Governor’s requests  to provide the funds necessary to improve our environment and benefit our health and that of our children.  We ask that you write your state representatives to insist that they work with the Governor to provide the funding to save our Manatees, Fishes, and Birds.  

Funding is also needed to support using human poop (termed ”biosolids”)from our sewage wastewater to produce electricity and sterilized  nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer to sell to countries that need it rather than spreading it on our Ag. lands. Fortunately, our County Commissioners have stopped that practice in our county.  

Along with the Legislature, we can also greatly help the IRL, St. Sebastian River, and wildlife by reducing our turfgrass and planting native trees and plants.  We need to pass stronger tree and landscape ordinances to save trees and plant native trees and plants in our yards.  And we all can help by planting a forest in our back yards with native plants to attract the wildlife. Alachua County in their Turf-Swap program pays people to remove their turfgrass.  It is cheaper for them to do so rather than allowing the use of 64-88% of their drinking water for lawn irrigation.  Folks with septic tanks next to a sewer system should be required to connect or do a hybrid system. Some funds are already available for this.

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