Resiliency is Key to Florida’s Water Crisis

Featured photo by Max Bressan

Florida’s coastal communities are experiencing an ecological water crisis. Locals who live along the coastlines know paradise is in trouble. Among the threats: toxic blue algae and red tide, aging septic systems threaten vulnerable inland waterways; polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee, offshore drilling and unchecked development and repeated lack of government funding. Florida stands at a historic environmental crossroads. 

Impacts of Red Tide on our Community

Recent red tide impacts are ongoing throughout Florida’s marine waters. Health effects for people have been reported as eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory distress, skin irritation and, in some cases, neurological disorders. Blue green algae, species of toxic cyanobacteria have been detected in Florida’s waters. Health effects for people are similar to red tide and includes emerging evidence of exposure leading to neurodegenerative diseases. 

The 103rd annual Florida Realtors Convention and Trade Expo held August 21 – 22, 2019 at Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando offered attendees, REALTOR members from all over the state, an education session on Florida’s water crisis presented by Stephen “Pepper” Uchin, a policy expert for Florida legislature with Anfield Consulting. The session discussed the impact of Florida’s water crisis happening now and what locals, officials and policy makers can do moving forward. 

Florida’s Water Usage

Water usage and storage in regards to public supply have increased tremendously. It’s important for the real estate industry to consider the impact in terms of a 30-year mortgage. The population of Florida in 1970 was 6.79 million people. Current population for 2019 has risen to approximately 21.5 million. Statistical reports predict by 2050, 32 million people will choose to make the state their homestead. 

Historical lack of funding and record keeping has contributed to the water crisis. In 2016, an important piece of legislation was adopted – SB552 403.928, an assessment of water resources and conservation lands. The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) shall conduct an annual assessment of Florida’s water resources and conservation lands. 

Florida faces resiliency challenges including sea level rise and extreme weather. Failure to withstand, recover or adjust to these changes can result in loss of property and life and, in the case of an organization or industry sector, extinction. A resilient community has the ability to anticipate, prepare for and withstand, recover or adjust to short and long term changes in environmental, social or economic conditions. 

Recovery of the panhandle from Hurricane Michael was used as an example in the presentation of how resiliency will be key to Florida’s survival. The storm was the first category five hurricane to hit the mainland US since Hurricane Andrew. In 1992, state building codes were strengthened after Hurricane Andrew. As Hurricane Michael proved in 2018, building code isn’t strong enough to protect Florida’s vulnerable communities. 

According to Uchin, during the 2019 legislative session, legislation was introduced that would have directed EDR to prepare an annual report to the legislature that provides rough fiscal estimate of state’s water infrastructure needs and identifies potential sources of revenue that could be used to satisfy the documented need. In the cases of SB 628 by Senator Albritton and HB 1199 by Representative Jacobs, in May 2019, the bills were “indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration” and “died in Infrastructure and Security.” 

What can residents do? Evaluate state laws and policies, call, write and connect with your local and state representatives to address any shortcomings and support legislation that directs statewide policies. 

Mimi McKee bio

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