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Florida must turn the toxic tide

From Staff Reports

Treasure Coast Newspapers USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA

As they have for decades, the real estate brochures and tourism campaigns continue to tout Florida as a sun-kissed Shangri-la, blessed with clear blue waters and pristine beaches that look like paradise.

Those of us who live here know paradise is in trouble.

Even as North Florida struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Michael, a more persistent, insidious problem has been brewing for decades.

Florida has become the land of sunshine and environmental crisis. Gorgeous vistas are fouled by the smell of blue-green algae, sandy beaches defiled by dead fish washed ashore, casualties of red tide.

The crisis extends well beyond our coastlines. Aging sewage systems and septic tanks threaten vulnerable inland waters; nutrients from treated sewage, or biosolids, spread on agricultural lands find their way into nearby lakes and tributaries and befoul them.

Florida’s iconic springs are threatened by a decline in flow volume and an increase in pollution. The Everglades, starved of fresh water and imperiled by rising sea levels, remains at risk. The threat of offshore drilling continues to loom.

It is not hyperbole to say that Florida stands at an historic environmental crossroads — one which could have profound economic consequences as “business-friendly” policies adapted in the wake of the Great Recession have become a liability, impacting key industries such as tourism and real estate.

Ultimately, Florida’s desirability as a place to live, work or play will be diminished, possibly destroyed.

We cannot allow these crises to persist.

We must turn the toxic tide.

Over the next few months the USA TODAY Network-Florida will publish a series of editorials detailing our myriad environmental problems, and offering solutions to the incoming Florida governor — be it Democrat Andrew Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis — detailing how the problems can be addressed.

Certainly, the governor alone is not responsible for addressing the crises. Florida’s congressional delegation must keep pushing for solutions; the Legislature must prioritize these issues; and local communities must do more.

We have been heartened to see our water problems featured so prominently in this fall’s political campaigns at both the state and federal level. However, once the election is over, these issues must remain atop the agenda.

We must return to the culture of responsible stewardship that predominated in years past. Over the past decade we have abandoned that legacy as leaders sought to boost economic growth at the expense of the environment. Regulatory agencies were dismantled and defanged, “business-friendly” guidelines replaced the more measured, cautious policies that had previously been in place.

There may have been a legitimate economic rationale for this approach in the immediate wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But it is clear, now, that budget cuts and deregulation have contributed significantly to our ecological plight.

That course must be reversed.

See TOXIC, Page 4B Over the next few months the USA TODAY Network-Florida will publish a series of editorials detailing our myriad environmental problems, and offering solutions to the incoming governor.

As the effects of red tide linger in Southwest Florida, a dead fish lies on the beach near the Naples Pier on Aug. 18.

H. LÉO KIM/NAPLES DAILY NEWS

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