An algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee River in 2005 (Pic by Florida Water Coalition)

Participants in a panel on water quality spoke today as part of the Everglades Water Supply Summit, highlighting the importance of working with both lawmakers and environmentalists to ensure the health of state waterways.

Panelists included Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard; Jim Harvey, a marine biologist with the Guy Harvey Research Institute; Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Tourism Board; and EPA Region 4 Administrator Gwendolyn Fleming. Below, some highlights from the discussion.

On the importance of water quality:

When asked about the economic value of boating, hunting and fishing in Florida, Vinyard said he understands the importance all too well. “I guess the good news is: I hunt, I fish and I boat, so I know firsthand the importance of it,” he said. “It’s obviously part of everyhting we do. … Florida’s the largest recreational fishing state in the entire country. It has a $5 billion annual impact on our state.”

“There are no fish if there is no habitat,” said Harvey, an avid fisherman, who said that the health of the Florida Bay has been “bad to terrible.”

“We’re surrounded by opportunities — reservoir storage, cleaning up water, people working together … we’re all polluters,” he said.

Fleming argued that cleaning up the water requires “a collective effort” among all agencies — both state and federal — and that it needs to be done in “a time frame that respects the urgency to prevent further degradation, while taking into account scientific credibility.”

Pigott agreed, arguing that Florida needs to “sell” its economic resources. “I’m an economist by training [and] what we sell is our natural resources,” she said, adding that she has “no tourism product” if the water isn’t healthy.

On Scott’s budget:

“The governor put forward a plan to clean up the Everglades,” Vinyard said. “He’s put his reputation behind it, he’s put $40 million in his proposed budget behind water quality improvements.” Vinyard also added that the state Department of Environmental Protection is working to ensure the health of Florida waterways, which is a nonpartisan issue. “These aren’t McCain scientists or Obama scientists, these are people who care a great deal about water quality.”

On the price of living in Florida:

According to Vinyard, environmental regulations, which many argue are needed to ensure the health of state waterways, will come at a cost to state taxpayers: “If you own a toilet, you will be paying more.”

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