1st PL Wesley Diebold 2020

Crystal River resident Wesley Diebold’s spellbinding photo of the heavens reflected in the glistening, late afternoon water of King’s Bay took first-place honors in the Save Our Waters Week annual photo contest.

Ralph Massullo col sig

Ralph Massullo

GUEST COLUMN

We humans celebrate anniversaries because they mark a period of time, a milestone if you will, where much has transpired from both our efforts and experiences through life and the achievements thereof.

Save Our Waters Week (SOWW) is celebrating 25 years of promoting public awareness and advocating action to protect and preserve our most valuable natural resource — our water.

Silver, a precious metal, is one of the items associated for that particular anniversary because it is viewed as valuable and somewhat rare. To achieve a quarter century of active participation in any endeavor is quite a feat in itself, and to successfully accomplish objectives and goals during that process is certainly something to celebrate.

We often ask people who have been together for many years and celebrating anniversaries, “What is your secret to success?” The answer is almost universally the same — hard work, persistence, understanding and compromise.

The same is true in dealing with the issues we face with our water.

In the past 25 years, we have come a long way in raising awareness that our water is precious. We all know it sustains our lives and without it none of us would last more than a couple of weeks. But many of us still do not realize that what we do here on earth influences both the quantity and quality of our water.

Unfortunately, our actions often reflect that ignorance.

The mission of SOWW has been and continues to be improving our awareness of our water issues and the challenges involved in addressing them in hopes that all of us will not only be advocates for change, but also the change agents ourselves. We do not want clean, abundant water to ever become a rarity.

Floridians and our visitors personally use roughly 800 billion gallons of water annually, which doesn’t include the water used in our industries, farms, entertainment venues, municipal facilities and infrastructure or personal residences. Our usage has almost doubled since SOWW started 25 years ago and as Florida continues to grow, it is likely to double again within the next 25 years.

Much of our water comes from the aquifer and some comes from the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean that border our state. Fortunately, Florida gets about 50 inches of rainfall annually that helps recharge those sources.

Unfortunately, we ourselves often compromise them. Much of the algae that are polluting our rivers, bays, springs, estuaries and lagoons are from the increase in nitrates that run off into our water bodies because of poorly functioning septic systems, improper and over use of fertilizers, and poorly planned developments. That issue is accentuated by the warming weather cycle our world is currently experiencing, resulting in damages to the entire ecosystem both in and out of the water.

Besides the impact to the environment, the monetary cost to our economy that struggles with natural disasters, and now the COVID crisis, could be a significant portion of Florida’s roughly one trillion dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

The good news is we have made great strides in improving our water in the last 25 years. Locally, we have had individuals like Art Jones who started One Rake at a Time that mobilizes citizens to clean up our water bodies of algae, muck and debris.

We have people like Larry Hartman leading organizations such as TOO FAR that work to improve our lakes. Too Far works directly with dedicated people at Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) like Dr. Mark Fulkerson and Kara Martin, to name a couple, who dedicate even their spare time to listen to the needs of the people they serve.

We have Steve and Jewel Lamb, who have spearheaded and supported Save Crystal River, which is now showing amazing progress cleaning up King’s Bay and the Crystal River.

We have Steve Minguy who is now working on the Homosassa River Restoration and Frank Kaposci, president of Homosassa River Alliance.

We have Dale and Leon McClellan, who own and operate M&B Dairy and have been recognized statewide for their best practices in managing their water usage and controlling run off.

We have a county commission that has prioritized water projects and septic to sewer conversions.

We have Curt Ebitz, who has promoted SOWW for many years with the support of the Chronicle newspaper headed by Gerry Mulligan, that understands the water issues our community and state faces and brings them into the public forum.

There are many others who selflessly involve themselves in protecting and preserving our water that may go unnamed, but are much appreciated for their efforts. Our community is blessed with many caring, dedicated and involved individuals.

In our district, working with Sen. Wilton Simpson, we have been able to help fund approximately 25 million dollars during the last four years for various water projects, including septic to sewer conversions and river restoration programs.

Since Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in January 2019, he has appropriated over a billion dollars of the state’s budget to combat water issues, particularly those of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. He has also approved over $100 million for springs restoration statewide and over one $100 million to fund Florida Forever.

This year we were successful in getting the first new aquatic preserve in Florida in over a generation located off the coast of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties signed into law. That new 400,000-acre outstanding Florida water entity will function to protect the state’s largest sea grass bed and associated ecosystem, improving water quality, preventing drilling and preserving over 500 million dollars in annual revenue to those three counties in perpetuity.

As much as we have accomplished in the last 25 years, we cannot rest on our laurels. There is much more work to be done and it will take all of us working together to accomplish it.

Using time released fertilizers on your lawn, having your septic system inspected periodically and promoting sewer system expansion, installing a berm between your property and any water body to restrict run off, and just being conscious of your water usage are all steps we can take as individual citizens to help save our water.

Besides silver, the iris flower has been traditionally associated with a 25th anniversary. It is a beautiful flower; however, an ancient belief is that it serves as a warning to be heeded. Perhaps it is warning us that we need to continue to work hard to save our water and stay diligent.

Our efforts today will define what our children experience tomorrow and perhaps the next 25 years will be truly golden!

Dr. Ralph Massullo represents District 34 in the Florida House of Representatives. He has degrees in industrial engineering and medicine.