MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed a measure tied to Everglades restoration.
SB 2508 has received pushback from critics, who argued it caters to the sugar industry and would lead to toxic discharges, more blue-green algae, and red tide blooms.
"We want to continue going on the path that we set out in January of 2019," DeSantis said Wednesday during a news conference in Fort Myers Beach. "We don't want anything to derail us from that."
WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE:
DeSantis said the bill would have stalled Everglades restoration and added "redundant regulatory hurdles" to fixing the historic river of grass.
"There's a lot of people that put a lot of good input in. Very, very passionate folks," DeSantis said. "We hear you, and we're gonna continue on the course that we started a little over three years ago."
The bill received bipartisan support when the creators of it insisted it would not impact the quality of water or threaten Everglades restoration projects.
But environmental groups and the governor weren’t sold.
Out at Sandsprit Park in Martin County Wednesday, Bob Hopkins bonded with his grandkids over fishing in clear, clean water.
"It's just clean, neat, fresh, and the main thing is my grandchildren have some recreation, some good clean fun," Hopkins said.
Conditions like these are never taken for granted, when over the decades when he’s even taken his own children here, algae turned them away.
"Visually look down and see, I can’t even see in an inch of water," Hopkins said.
When SB 2508 was quickly pushed through the state legislature this year, supporters said it would keep more water in Lake Okeechobee as a backup in case dry conditions threatened drinking water supply or agricultural needs south of the lake.
"Personally, I aven’t thought that water supply has gotten the attention that it needed," said Ryan Rossi with the South Florida Water Coaltion.
Rossi praised the bill because it localized more water control.
"The reality is we still have to remain very conscious of our backup water supply for nearly 7 million residents here in South Florida," Rossi said.
But higher lake levels, environmentalists feared, could lead to Lake Okeechobee releases to the east and west if the water didn’t end up being needed to the south, and feed toxic algae blooms.
Thousands of people, according to Friends of the Everglades, also sent letters to the state asking for the veto over worries of expedited wetlands permitting they feared would be destructive.
Critics also said it reversed years of collaborative work with all stakeholders, who had a say in the Army Corps of Engineers' new water management schedule.
"2508 was an effort in the state legislature to change some of the management changes the Corps decided to put in place in federal law," said U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida.
Mast said it would have given more priority to water supply and agriculture.
"It put its fingers on the scale to make water supply for agriculture that much more at the expense of other communities," Mast said.
In a news conference Wednesday, DeSantis announced he is vetoing the bill. He previously said he was concerned about the way it was hurried through the legislatur, circumventing public scrutiny.
West Palm Beach’s Mayor Keith James said in a statement, "Our city remains exposed and our future access to drinking water during drought conditions could be in jeopardy. We will continue to fight for the rights of our residents and customers."