Authored by the American Water Security Project’s board chair Kirk Mantay, “Celebrate bi-partisan leadership on resiliency and water infrastructure” originally appeared in the Naples News-Press August 19, 2020.

Despite what you may have heard about the 2020 Florida legislative session’s environmental policy outcomes, Floridians really ought to be pleased by the legislature’s hard work, and the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis. As a land conservation leader and wetlands expert in the Mid-Atlantic with family throughout Southwest Florida, it has been fascinating to watch and have a hand in crafting laws that will help ensure a cleaner, safer and more productive future for the Sunshine State. Our nation should pay attention to Florida’s newfound, bi-partisan environmental leadership.

American Water Security Project board chair, Kirk Mantay.

Together, the Clean Waterways Act and the Environmental Accountability Act will significantly curtail land-based sources of pollution through stronger deterrents and penalties, inspections and reporting. They will also mandate investments in the improvements of urban wastewater/stormwater infrastructure and agricultural Best Management Practices.

Meanwhile, Everglades Restoration funds and new stormwater/wastewater improvement funds will allow water managers to better optimize the quality, timing, and delivery of clean water for irrigation and ecosystem restoration. As someone who has worked on water policy and restoration in over a dozen states, I assure you that Florida’s new laws and appropriations are enviable.  There is more work to do in the future, and what a great foundation these pieces of legislation create.

Importantly, these new laws are well-built and are likely to be durable. They are what policy experts call “foundational,” because they create new processes (and new penalties) that can be amended or strengthened through Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection rule-making process, and through legislation. It should be noted that both bills were largely driven through the process by Republicans, in the Republican-dominated Florida legislature, with guidance from a youthful Republican Governor, and with significant input from veteran Democratic leaders with extensive experience in water and related climate policy. It was an honor to meet twice with the late Representative Kristen Jacobs, (D-Broward,) who strongly influenced those bills.

That both bills passed unanimously should inspire optimism in a time when division and loud resentment are rewarded with attention, and successful bi-partisan teamwork toward science-based policies is met with strident criticism by political extremists. Critics are calling those bills “failures” before the regulations required by the new laws have even been written, and before their actual implementation has even started. It is a disappointing illustration of the polarized, inflexible politics of our time.

Instead, let’s look at what Congress just did in a similar vein. I was part of the American Water Security Project Science and Technology Advisory Panel that submitted extensive comments to the Congressional Select Committee on the Climate Crisis regarding the need for resilient water infrastructure. The 14-member Committee, chaired by Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa), recently released a 500-plus page report that includes vital recommendations for the repair, upgrade and long-term resilience of America’s water infrastructure and natural assets. In this case, a majority of Democrats worked with a minority of Republicans in a committee that represented 11 diverse states. Many of the report’s recommendations unintentionally echo or mirror the new Florida water laws.

If a legislature representing a state as large and diverse as Florida can agree on policy and funding programs for a cleaner, stronger, and more productive society, and if a committee as diverse as the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis can similarly agree, then it’s time for Congress as a whole to get to work on an equitable, fiscally responsible, and effective carbon-pricing system that aggressively reduces greenhouse gas emissions while providing ample funds for water infrastructure improvements, as well as investments in environmental restoration that restore our nation’s social and natural capital.

Kirk Mantay is the Executive Director of the Green Trust Alliance, a regional land and water conservation partner and land trust, and the Chair of the American Water Security Project, a national organization dedicated to the optimal treatment and recycling of stormwater and wastewater.