Welcome back to the Impact Zone, Surfrider’s series dedicated to all things legislative session in Florida for our ocean, beaches and waves. We should know to always expect the unexpected in Tallahassee, and this week was no exception. In addition to regularly scheduled committee meetings, a special session was called to address several key priorities for Governor DeSantis, including immigration, the Reedy Creek improvement district, election crimes, and compensation for college athletes. The special session dominated the week, however, several key committees met to hear presentations and conduct regular committee week business.
The intersection of hurricane impacts, Florida’s beaches and resiliency were highlighted as the committee heard from the state’s Chief Resilience Officer, the Florida Shore + Beach Preservation Association and Babcock Ranch, an inland Southwest Florida community that fared well after Hurricane Ian.
Babcock Ranch highlighted the sustainable and hurricane resilient measures it baked into its development plans that provided protection with the landfall of Hurricane Ian. The features could certainly inspire a local government to include certain features in a Resilient Florida implementation projects. The state’s Chief Resilience Officer gave an update on this program and a resiliency report-out following this year’s hurricane season. Notably, natural infrastructure provides real flood mitigation benefits and preserving natural landscapes is a critical insurance policy for future growth and climate impacts. The agency continues to emphasize nature-based solutions as a key component of any resiliency plan for Florida.
Finally, the committee heard about the economic impact of beaches to the state and the importance of beach restoration and renourishment activities as Florida continues to experience changes along its coasts due to sea level rise and increasingly damaging hurricanes and storm events. It is vital that members of the legislature continue to hear about both the value of our beaches and their greatest threats so that we might better plan and protect them for years to come.
Springs were top of mind this week as the committee heard from the Florida Springs Institute and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about Florida’s springs and agency efforts to protect and restore them.
Florida’s vast network of springs spans throughout the northern portion of the state and sprawls across the panhandle. They are a source of clean water and support habitat, fisheries, endangered species, and are economic drivers for communities across the state. Sadly, much like the state’s coastal waters, Florida’s springs are impaired. Whether it is nutrient pollution from excess nitrogen in fertilizer or lost flow due to groundwater depletion or dams inhibiting natural flow ways, these aquatic resources require additional regulatory action and funding to protect them.
While the state is taking action and has invested $275 million to protect the 30 designated Outstanding Florida Springs and ensure minimum flow and water levels, the sad state of our springs tells us that more action is required to restore this vital resource. Legislators have the an urgent opportunity this year to appropriate funds to breach the Rodman Dam and free the Ocklawaha River, restoring riverways and the more than 20 springs in the watershed.
While the special session might be over, interim committee weeks continue. Keep your eyes peeled for another Impact Zone after we wrap-up next week!