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Water Management District board vacancies concern some conservationists

The Southwest Florida Water Management Board met this week. At last.

The board had to cancel a meeting recently because it lacked enough members present to have a quorum. Only seven of its 13 seats were filled at the time, and one member did not attend. The other vacant seats were awaiting appointments from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And while the water management district has now approved its $202 million budget and its tax rate for homeowners in the 16 counties it covers, some conservationists are looking at water district board vacancies with concern. Is DeSantis living up to his environmental agenda announced in January, or is he dragging his feet?

“He has made some bold promises to improving water quality, and we're going to continue to advocate for that and hold them accountable for those promises,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“And we know that there are a lot of things going on that should be concluding, you know, right around now at the end of summer, beginning of fall,” Lopez said. “So we'll start to see if the administration is able to put his money where his mouth is and really deliver on some of the promises of improving Florida's water quality.”

Lopez added it is crucial that the water districts address red tide and blue-green algae blooms statewide. A task force on blue-green algae held its last meeting Wednesday, but its recommendations have not yet been sent to the water districts to be implemented.

Other water districts have received speedier attention. In South Florida, where the sugar industry and Everglades restoration are high-profile issues, DeSantis quickly moved to replace the entire South Florida Water Management District Board in January after it refused to put off a November 2018 vote on a new sugar farming lease that he wanted to review.