Ensuring Generational Survival
The world famous Harvard professor and scholar Edward O. Wilson has characterized Northwest Florida as a part of one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. The combination of spring-fed and black water lakes, streams and rivers layered on top of a complicated mosaic of soil types, geology and topography provides a dizzying array of habitat combinations that support rich communities of plant and animal life.
The world famous Harvard professor and scholar Edward O. Wilson has characterized Northwest Florida as a part of one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. The combination of spring-fed and black water lakes, streams and rivers layered on top of a complicated mosaic of soil types, geology and topography provides a dizzying array of habitat combinations that support rich communities of plant and animal life. Crucial to the long-term success of these diverse communities, and to the quality of life that this largely rural portion of Florida enjoys, is the protection and restoration of the water resources on which local business and agriculture interests — plus the region’s natural resources — rely.
In recent decades, Florida has developed one of the most successful water resource management programs in the country. The state has been an innovator in the implementation of urban storm water, waste water treatment and reuse programs, and is a national leader in efforts to address the impact of water quality on agriculture — a major economic driver in the region and our state. Fundamental to all these endeavors is a reliance on good science and the expectation that they will result in a measurable biological improvement. The protection of these water resources is important more than ever, as we see local economies, agricultural interests and small businesses stressed to their limits.
For the last three years, Florida has been engaged in a debate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the adequacy of Florida’s water resource protection programs. In January of 2009, the EPA determined that Florida must develop water quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus. Then in August of 2009, the EPA decided it couldn’t wait for the state to act and chose to develop its own set of standards to impose on Florida. No other state has been exposed to this kind of action by the EPA. I believe it is inappropriate and unwarranted, that the EPA erred in judgment and that Florida is best positioned to protect its water resources.
The EPA standards for Florida would deem some of the most pristine waters of Northwest Florida to be unhealthy. And taking action to meet those federal standards could force local businesses and homeowners to pay higher wastewater utility bills. Those increased fees would pay for nitrogen and phosphorus reduction technologies that, in many cases, would result in no measurable improvement in the health of the region’s water.
Instead of increasing utility fees and property taxes to reduce nutrients to the federally imposed standards, Florida’s restoration and protection programs should focus on water bodies that are truly impaired.
The biological diversity of Northwest Florida that Professor Wilson has made us aware of deserves site-specific attention to guarantee survival. I believe we must stand up in support of Florida’s well-respected track record of water quality protection and work to persuade the EPA to reconsider its earlier determination. I am confident that my counterparts with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, working closely with Northwest Florida’s stakeholders, will produce a dramatically superior water quality protection program than any that could be proposed or developed by a federal agency.
As a fifth generation Floridian, I consider the entire state my home. Since assuming office last January, I’ve been thrilled to get back out on the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers south of Tallahassee, witness the recovery of Gulf Coast community businesses from the disaster of the BP oil spill and enjoy the beauty of pristine wetland communities in many of Northwest Florida’s public forests. I have a renewed appreciation for the biological diversity described by Professor Wilson and a renewed commitment to do all that I can to ensure its health and survival for future generations. Water resources in this region and throughout the state deserve the very best protection efforts that science will allow. It is far better for those programs to be developed and implemented by our fellow Floridians than by far distant staff at the EPA.
Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture. In this capacity, he oversees the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and serves as a member of Florida’s Cabinet. He is recognized as a leader on many issues, including water, energy, nutrition and government efficiency. Previously, Putnam represented Floridians in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Florida House of Representatives. He is a graduate of the University of Florida. He and his wife, Melissa, have four children.