BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs. The event was focused on the future of Florida’s environmental conservation efforts. Signage at the event read “Protecting Florida.”

The governor started the event by recapping his promises upon first taking office to protect Florida’s environment, including via what he called a “major, far reaching executive order,” saying the state would put its money where its mouth was to fight red tide, protect water quality, and show the state knew how important water was to tourism and industry overall.

“I’m happy to say that we’ve delivered on the promises we made that day, four years ago,” DeSantis said, calling back to coming down to Bonita Springs when he took office and committed Florida to environmental protection.

He said the current board for the South Florida Water Management District had done more in the past four years than any previous time of the district’s history, with a “record amount of water” flowing through South Florida to the Everglades and other areas.

Focusing on the new details of Florida’s conservation efforts, DeSantis said that the next four years were meant to build on the $1 billion increase for conservation over the first term of his governorship.

“What we ended up doing over four years was not $2.5 billion but $3.3 billion,” Desantis said. “Part of it is we were really committed to making a difference, we had good partners in the legislature.”

The governor also said the effort’s funding was due to strong tourism numbers and the economic impact of it to “fill our coffers” as it came to state revenue and budget projections.

“That would not have happend if we had turned Florida into a Fauciville,” DeSantis said. “It would not have been possible, so we had to make sure to do the right thing.”

He said of the $3.3 billion, $1.7 billion was for the Everglades, more than the past 12 years combined.

“Since our efforts, we’ve been able to expedite projects,” DeSantis said, saying that more than 50 projects had begun. “Of course, we have had fewer harmful discharges out of Lake Okeechobee over these last four years than we’ve had in the previous.”

DeSantis said that was due to a combination of working with the Army Corps of Engineers and new technology to manage algae blooms, as well as $1.6 billion used to update water quality and supply improvements, plus a grant for wastewater infrastructure and efforts to go from septic systems to sewer in the state. The governor highlighted legislative efforts as well as resilience projects to fortify Florida communities.

“If you noticed when Ian came through, the things that had been more recently hardened or fortified did a lot better,” DeSantis said. “In fact you would not have had the power on in some areas for maybe six or eight weeks, but you had some of the substations there had been big improvements to.”

The governor also mentioned the Florida Wildlife Corridor as an example of promises kept from his first term in office as well as make progress on improvements.

“We followed through and we did it to the hilt,” DeSantis said. Telling the audience at the event that state officials weren’t in Bonita Springs to relax, but to build on their success. “Today, on the fourth year anniversary of our original executive order, we are signing another executive order…to ensure that we continue our historic momentum and conserve Florida for future generations.”

He said the order would accomplish the following:

  • Pledging $3.5 billion over four years for conservation
  • Directs DEP to identify and prioritize strategies to expedite water quality restoration in Indian River Lagoon
  • Directs DEP to work with legislature on expanding wastewater grant program, to include non-point sources and agriculture runoff
  • Directs South Florida Water Management District to expedite Everglades restoration projects, including those that reduce risk of harmful discharges

The governor said the federal government was assisting at the Southern Reservoir, but said that “they don’t move quite as fast,” as state officials, but they didn’t want the projects to “languish in bureaucracy.” The governor also said he would have DEP strengthen basin management plans, working with the Dept. of Agriculture, as well as work on agriculture management strategies for runoff risks.

“We’ll also work to continue our progress towards reducing the frequency of algal blooms,” DeSantis said, mentioning blue-green algae and red tide task forces set up in previous efforts.

The governor was joined by Secretary Shawn Hamilton of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Chief Resilience Officer Dr. Wes Brooks and Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Rains, as well as other officials from the South Florida Water Management District, all of whom discussed the challenges of conservation and their commitment to putting the work in.