Florida must improve its water quality

A study by the Gulf Restoration Network gave Florida a D+ for the quality of its water. Florida residents should be alarmed at this, as it is an environmental and a health issue.

The study’s main purpose was to review how the Clean Water Act was implemented in gulf coast states. The results were based on each state’s water quality standards, compliance with federal guidance and regulations, and interviews with state and federal employees as well as experts in water policy.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon passed the Clean Water Act. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this act includes a “variety of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.”

The goal of this program is to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation’s water, which protects wildlife and people.

Although the overall grade was a D+, in some areas such as water quality standards, public health standards and public participation Florida received a C, while for nitrogen and phosphorous pollution standards it got an F.

Florida does not have state-wide nitrogen and phosphorus water quality standards to limit pollution, according to the report. The state is not doing anything to fix this issue either by implementing new standards or being stricter with the few regulations that it does have.

The report, titled “Clean Up Your Act: Gulf States Report Card September 2009,” made five significant recommendations that both the states and citizens need to take into account and act upon. The most important one is that Florida could improve public participation by allowing more citizen-gathered data to be incorporated into its decision making process.

Individual citizens should be involved in environmental issues because such matters directly affect everyone. Since Florida is home to some of the most beautiful beaches of the world, water quality standards are crucial. By making the water cleaner, the state will benefit both economically and ecologically.

According to the state’s official tourism agency, Visit Florida, a record 76.8 million people visited in 2004, many of who were attracted by its exotic beaches. Tourism is one of the most profitable industries in Florida, and it brings in over $50 billion a year. This money is essential not only for the state but also for all the “mom and pop” shops, restaurants and hospitality businesses in the beach areas.

There is also extensive ecological damage as a result of the state’s poor standards. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Florida citizens are being taxed in order for Everglades restoration programs to occur, while at the same time the South Florida Water Management District has been legally dumping polluted water into Lake Okeechobee.

According to the Everglades National Park Web site, the park is home to over 36 threatened or endangered species, including the American crocodile, the Florida panther and the West Indian manatee. Being on this list means that these animals may soon become extinct unless their habitat is protected and managed for their survival.

Another very important recommendation made in the report was that the state should work toward maintaining standards that allow all bodies of water to support wildlife and swimming. If the state doesn’t enforce strict protocols against disposing any more toxins and pollutants into the water, then beaches, lakes and rivers will be unusable for recreational purposes.

Concerned students should write letters to public officials demanding better regulations for water in the state. If state standards don’t improve, then polluted water will have an increasingly negative effect on the health of Florida’s residents and wildlife.

Xhenis Berberi is a senior majoring in political science and economics.