Environmentalists in Tampa issue clean water declaration

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  • The Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone (right) was one of a host of groups calling on state lawmakers to clean up Florida's waterways.

Citing the record number of manatees that died in Florida waters in 2013, environmental activists called for elected officials to sign a clean water declaration in 16 cities on Wednesday, a vow to protect the Sunshine State's waterways from the pollution and privatization that threaten their health.

Environmental activists were joined on Tampa's Riverwalk this morning by state House Representative Mark Danish (D-Hillsborough) and Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who both signed the pledge, blown up for photo op purposes.

Although not mentioning the Palm River or Eastlake communities of Hillsborough County directly, Beckner was no doubt referring to that area when he said, "It's time that we come together as a community to make sure [of] this basic, inalienable right that people should have to clean water and affordable water..to make sure it's secured with every Floridian, and every single person in our community."

Environmental activist Kent Bailey wondered if his grandchildren or great grandchildren would ever see manatees in Florida waters. "At this time last year we had 4,800 manatees left. Now, we have fewer than 4,000. In a single year, we lost one in six. ...at that rate, they'll all be gone by 2020."

When asked what the Legislature should do to clean up the state's waterways, the Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone said his organization would like to see stronger regulation of nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants that currently go into the water system.

"We would like to see the state not trying to stop local fertilizer ordinances, like the ones that Tampa and St. Petersburg tried to put into place, but actually encourage that forward," Jackalone said. He also mentioned septic tanks (the organization believes property owners with such systems should prevent their wastes from fouling a community's water supply) and Lake Okeechobee (which he labeled "a giant cesspool,") as other issues the state needs to address.

Considerable work has been done toward restoring the health of the Hillsborough River, Jackalone acknowledged, but said more needs to be done. "We need to clean it up to the point where EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] says that this river is no longer impaired. It's safe for children to swim in it...and empty out into the Gulf of Mexico."

Rich Brown with Friends of the River agreed, but says he's thrilled that city leaders are putting so much importance on the river that cuts through Tampa. "Ten years ago this river was just a river. Now it's a jewel. So whatever we have to do, we'll be starting from a much better position."

On Tuesday Governor Rick Scott announced $55 million in new funding for restoration and protection of Florida's springs in the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget. But the Sierra Club's Jackalone quickly dismissed that announcement, saying it was simply a "drop in the bucket" for what the springs truly need.

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