Florida legislators introduce Safe Waterways Act

October 28, 2021
By Guest Columnist

To the Editor:

Residents and tourists come to Florida’s iconic waters for recreation and enjoyment, but unfortunately many state waterways have become more polluted and dangerous. In fact, nearly one million acres of coastal estuaries and 9,000 miles of Florida’s streams and rivers are verified impaired for fecal indicator bacteria. FIB indicates the presence of dangerous pathogens that can be found in animal and human feces. However, no state requirement exists to consistently inform the public of this threat to their health. Currently, warnings are only being posted at a small subset of state recreational waters through the “Healthy Beaches” program.

To solve this problem, State Senator Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) and State Representative Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-Gainesville) recently filed SB 604 and HB 393, termed the “Safe Waterways Act.” The legislation will require county health departments to post and maintain warning signs at additional public bathing places that have been verified impaired for fecal coliform, Escherichia coli, or enterococci bacteria by the Florida Department of Health. Signage would be present until the waterbody meets state water quality standards, which would provide additional incentive to speed up restoration efforts. The legislation also includes the specific language for the signage.

Calusa Waterkeeper, John Cassani released the following statement:

“For too long, public waters contaminated with fecal bacteria have gone without public notification of the health risk. Many of Florida’s waters designated for recreation have fecal bacteria levels consistently above the threshold the Florida Department of Health uses to close coastal beaches, yet, on-site signage to indicate the specific risk, is lacking. The problem has grown exponentially as Florida’s population has exploded and restoration has not kept pace with the increasing and widespread rate of impairment. This legislation would require signage at statewide recreational waters other than coastal beaches and bring emphasis to the need for accelerated restoration.”

Floridians and visitors have the right to know if the waters they swim and recreate in are safe.

To find out more about supporting this important public health policy, please visit right2knowfl.org.

John Cassani

Calusa Waterkeeper

cassani@calusawaterkeeper.org