by Dominic M. Calabro – Palm Beach Post
Being in a state bound by oceans, it can be tempting to take water for granted.
But as Floridians, we know better.
Clean water is essential to maintaining our public health.
And it is also at the heart of our culture with the prized Florida lifestyle – and the businesses that deliver that lifestyle to residents and tourists alike – requiring high-quality, clean bodies of water.
Florida’s water resources are interconnected as one fragile system. Unfortunately, parts of that system are already degraded: our lakes and lagoons have been clouded by blue-green algae, red tide has attacked our coasts and aging septic systems have inundated our ground water with nutrients that render water undrinkable and spread to the surface through springs.
To restore these resources and limit further strain on the system, which is to be expected given the constant influx of new residents to the state, it is critical that Florida update and enhance its water infrastructure.
The most recent American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave Florida’s infrastructure the following grades in these specific categories:
Wastewater: C. Stormwater: C-minus. Drinking water: C.
And in its latest assessment of Florida’s water resources, the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) estimated that between 2023 and 2040, the state will need $201.5 billion for stormwater management and wastewater services – including $90.5 billion worth of capital improvements.
Clearly, improving our water infrastructure will require a significant investment from the state. Thankfully, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have made restoring and protecting our valuable water resources a top priority.
The Florida Legislature allocated $1.7 billion in federal pandemic relief aid toward water – and for fiscal year 2023-24, the state funded at least 13 grant and loan programs that provide financial assistance to local governments to improve water infrastructure. In addition, 268 member-requested water projects – worth $433 million – were appropriated in the current state budget.
But while these projects may be important to local communities, they bypass established grant programs; therefore, we cannot be assured they represent the best projects to achieve a statewide water strategy.
Although these investments are needed, the allocations for water infrastructure are inconsistent and disjointed, scattered across a myriad of grant programs, one-time investments and recurring programs in the state budget. Fluctuations in water funding levels, and the growing number of local water projects earmarked by the Florida Legislature, make it harder to comprehensively plan for investing in the state’s water infrastructure and ensuring the best projects are selected.
To successfully satisfy Florida’s water needs now and in the years to come, the state must invest in a coordinated and thorough process for selecting water projects, with a focus on achieving outcomes that best support, integrate and sustain statewide goals and priorities.
In our recent report, ‘Water Infrastructure Projects are Vital: Develop and Fund a 3-5 Year Strategic Work Program,’ Florida TaxWatch recommends the state adopt a multi-year work program for all water projects. The program would be created with the input and cooperation of cities, counties, water management districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In addition, the project selection would be competitive – it would be determined through a priority ranking based on specified criteria, such as the process used by the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Resiliency Plan.
A multi-year work program like this would help the state satisfy its water infrastructure needs – and it would also wisely use tax dollars by ensuring an optimal return on investment.
Florida’s valuable and vital water resources, and the state’s taxpayers, deserve nothing less.
Dominic M. Calabro is the CEO of Florida TaxWatch.