DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton Highlights Continued Historic Environmental Achievements in 2021

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DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton Highlights Continued Historic Environmental Achievements in 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – From the day he took office, Governor Ron DeSantis made it clear that achieving more for Florida’s environment would be a top priority. Since that time, an environmental movement has taken shape in Florida resulting in unprecedented protections of our air, water and land. During 2021, under Governor DeSantis' leadership and with the support of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has taken aggressive steps to effectively address environmental issues at the source and implement innovative solutions to mitigate pressing environmental concerns.

"Under Governor DeSantis' leadership, in 2021, DEP and our partners have funded infrastructure projects to improve our state's coastal resiliency, facilitated critical Everglades restoration projects, used sound science to preserve and protect our waterways, acquired lands to protect Florida's water resources, and provided resource-based recreation to residents and visitors," said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. "These achievements are only a glimpse of the work that our agency accomplishes daily."


Governor Has Secured Over $2 Billion in Funding for Everglades Restoration and Statewide Water Restoration Since Fiscal Year 2019-20

Surpassing even initial goals outlined in his Executive Order 19-12, Governor DeSantis' Fiscal Year (FY) 2021-2022 Florida Leads Budget provided more than $791 million in funding for targeted water quality improvements for springs and Everglades restoration, wastewater infrastructure improvements, and investments in science-based technologies to support the overarching goal of water quality protection statewide.

With this funding, the state, in conjunction with our partners, continues to take action every day to protect the state's vital water resources.

This provides:

  • $360 million for Everglades restoration and the EAA Reservoir project.
  • $116 million for wastewater grants in areas with restoration plans, including the Indian River Lagoon.
  • $50 million for Lake Okeechobee watershed restoration project.
  • $50 million for springs restoration.
  • $25 million for total maximum daily load projects.
  • $20 million for projects within the Springs Coast and Peace River watersheds.
  • $20 million for projects that protect and restore Biscayne Bay.
  • $10.8 million to address and protect water bodies from the risk of blue-green algal blooms.
  • $10 million for innovative technology.

Additionally, the FY 2021-22 budget dedicated federal funds to protect Florida’s water resources, including:

  • $525 million for wastewater grants in areas with restoration plans as well as disadvantaged communities.
  • $107 million to support the Everglades restoration.
  • $40 million for alternative water supply projects.
  • An additional $25 million for springs restoration.
  • $20 million for total maximum daily load projects.

DEP and SFWMD Secure Funding to Expedite Critical Everglades Restoration Projects, Including C-43, C-44 and EAA Reservoirs

Unprecedented funding for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources has enabled DEP and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to expedite critical projects.

The 2021-22 Budget provides over $517 million to restore the Everglades and reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries. Specifically, this funding supports the following projects:

  • Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project components:
    • C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir.
    • Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA).
    • Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project.
    • Central Everglades Planning.
    • Indian River Lagoon South – C-25 STA.
  • Northern Everglades and Estuary Protection Program.
    • Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough/S-191 Basin Storage.
    • Boma Flow Equalization Basin.
    • C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir Water Quality Component.
    • Lake Hicpochee Hydrologic Enhancement.
    • Lower Kissimmee STA Dispersed Water Management.
  • Restoration Strategies.
    • C-139 FEB.
    • STA 1-West.
    • G-341 Conveyance Improvements.

Through this unprecedented funding for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources, 37 Everglades restoration projects have broken ground, hit a major milestone or finished construction. By 2022, as a result of positive changes under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida will have completed or broken ground on 15 of the most critical Everglades restoration projects that reduce harmful discharges and send more clean water south.

Key milestones during 2021:

  • In November 2021, Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez joined DEP, SFWMD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal agencies to celebrate the completion of the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA). Located on approximately 12,000 acres on the north side of the St. Lucie Canal (C-44 Canal) in western Martin County, the C-44 Reservoir and STA project will capture Lake Okeechobee releases and local basin runoff and provide water quality treatment to the benefit of the St. Lucie estuary.
  • In November 2021, the SFWMD celebrated the completion of another Everglades project – the Bluefield Dispersed Water Management Project in St. Lucie County. This project will improve regional water quality and support the health of the Northern Everglades by providing important water storage and treatment east of Lake Okeechobee.
  • In September 2021, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the S-191A Pump Station, the final component of the Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) Project. The Lakeside Ranch STA and S-191A Pump Station are key components of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. Additionally, the project is identified in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Plan to improve water quality for Lake Okeechobee.
  • In August 2021, the Old Tamiami Trail Road Removal project was completed six months ahead of schedule. The project included removal of 5.45 miles of the Old Tamiami Trail, just south of the existing Tamiami Trail to allow water to naturally sheetflow south into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
  • In June 2021, the 2021 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Well Science Plan was finalized. The SFWMD and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the 2021 ASR Well Science Plan to support a phased, science-based implementation of ASR wells as part of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP). SFWMD is rehabilitating existing ASR sites for operation in 2022 and exploratory wells are underway for cluster sites. In October 2021, DEP received an application for operations of the Kissimmee River ASR facility and conceptual authorization of the other LOWRP ASR facilities.
  • In May 2021, SFWMD commenced construction of the 8.5 Square Mile Area Limited Seepage Wall. The 2.3-mile long underground wall will help prevent seepage of water away from Everglades National Park, support ongoing Everglades restoration goals and support the increase of the flow of water south.
  • In March 2021, the SFWMD reached another milestone in the ongoing effort to expedite the EAA Reservoir Project with commencement of the buildout of the STA. In June 2021, DEP issued a permit to USACE for the inflow/outflow canal, the first construction contract associated with the reservoir. This important Everglades restoration project reduces harmful discharges to the northern estuaries from Lake Okeechobee and sends more clean water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Chief Science Officer Continues Commitment to Science-Based Solutions and Increased Accountability and Transparency

On March 30, 2021, Governor DeSantis announced the appointment of Dr. Mark Rains as the state of Florida’s Chief Science Officer (CSO). The CSO leads the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency (OEAT), which is charged with ensuring that key water quality objectives are clearly communicated to the public and with organizing agency resources and scientific expertise, data and research to solve complex challenges.

In 2021, DEP hosted Blue-Green Algae Task Force meetings focused on the topics of Innovative Technology, Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee Updates and Predictive Modeling on June 23, Aug. 23 and Dec. 8, 2021, respectively. The task force is building on the success of its efforts in 2019 and 2020 and provides guidance to ensure that recommendations from the consensus document are properly understood and considered during the ongoing implementation of Florida's Clean Waterways Act. This legislation protects water quality by transferring the regulation of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (septic systems) from the Florida Department of Health to DEP in addition to the implementation of other wastewater, stormwater and agricultural restrictions aimed at reducing nutrient impacts on Florida’s water quality.

"Thanks to the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state continues to prioritize the use of science to underlie sound decision-making,” said Florida's Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Rains. “I am proud of the progress made this year by the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency in assisting with the additional protections established for Florida’s waterways, including identifying potential sources of nutrients through targeted wastewater and stormwater inspections and expanding and enhancing water monitoring networks.”

OEAT also spearheaded the development of the Protecting Florida Together website, an online resource that allows the public to access the state’s first-ever comprehensive water quality dashboard encompassing multi-agency water quality data and initiatives. This platform provides users with access to water quality data, including information about nutrients, active restoration projects and the status of water quality in Florida communities.

In 2021, OEAT completed development of a preference center that allows Floridians to sign up for blue-green algae and red tide email notifications, as well as an education center that assists stakeholders by providing a one-stop-shop for information on key water quality issues.

In 2021, OEAT distributed signage to educate the public about blue-green algal blooms. The signage, which was developed through discussions at Blue-Green Algae Task Force meetings and in coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Health, increases public awareness of blue-green algae, provides information on what to do when blooms are present and explains how to find up-to-date information on blue-green algal blooms and other water quality issues through

DEP Progresses in Implementation of the Clean Waterways Act

Florida's Clean Waterways Act is landmark legislation that carries a wide range of water quality protection provisions aimed at minimizing the impact of known sources of nutrient pollution, realigning the state’s resources to enhance protection of the state's environment and strengthen regulatory requirements.

The Clean Waterways Act focuses on remedial action and improvements to regulations regarding septic and stormwater systems and wastewater infrastructure, as well as agricultural best management practices. This legislation serves as the foundation for implementing necessary actions by the department, local governments and our regulated community based on Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations.

Multiple DEP program areas along with other state agencies are undertaking a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to implement the requirements of the act. This effort includes a suite of rulemaking actions to strengthen environmental regulations that will hold permittees accountable and reduce nutrient inputs into the state’s waterways, including:

  • Biosolids rulemaking was completed and Chapter 2021-153, Laws of Florida was signed into law on June 21, 2021; these rule revisions became effective the same date.
  • Collection system rule revisions related to maintenance and monitoring of collections systems became effective Oct. 4 2021.
  • Rule revisions related to proper reporting of Sanitary Sewer Overflows, bypasses and unauthorized discharges became effective Sept. 14, 2021.
  • Rule revisions related to requirements for the construction and operation of domestic wastewater facilities became effective Dec. 6, 2021.
  • Wastewater-Reuse Phase I rulemaking (62-610) was completed Aug. 8, 2021; the remaining portions of Wastewater-Reuse Phase II related to 62-610 are ongoing.  
  • Wastewater-Reuse Phase II  rules (62-625; 62-600; 62-625.610) were adopted Sept. 20, 2021, Sept. 27, 2021, and Oct. 20, 2021, respectively.
  • Stormwater rulemaking is currently underway.

Additionally, the Clean Waterways Act required transfer of oversight of the regulation of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to DEP. The transfer became effective July 1, 2021, and 12 staff from the DOH joined DEP’s Division of Water Resource Management as the new Onsite Sewage Program. DEP continues to coordinate with Florida’s 67 county health departments on local septic permitting issues, as set forth in an Interagency Agreement that was executed prior to the transfer. As directed in the act, DEP established the Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal System Technical Advisory Committee, which was charged with providing recommendations to the Governor and Legislature regarding requirements for the physical location of these systems, increasing marketplace availability and introduction of enhanced nutrient reducing technologies in Florida. The committee met six times, and as required by the act, its final recommendations will be submitted to the Governor and Legislature by Jan. 1, 2022.

DEP Funds Projects Comprising to Further Protect Florida’s Springs

Florida is home to more large (first- and second-magnitude) springs than any other state in the nation. Some springs support entire ecosystems with plants and animals endemic to those locations. They also flow into rivers dependent on the springs' clean, fresh water. Additionally, Florida’s springs offer many recreational opportunities, such as swimming and kayaking, and serve as economic drivers for our communities.

Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has made an unprecedented financial commitment, dedicating $225 million over the last three years specifically for springs restoration. This record funding has enabled the department to assist local governments and other stakeholders in identifying and constructing projects that are imperative to achieving restoration goals.

In 2021, $50 million of state funding went toward these goals. DEP awarded grants to 25 projects, including continued support for 13 legacy projects and 12 new projects. These initiatives are primarily focused on wastewater treatment improvements, including septic-to-sewer projects and land acquisition/conservation easements.

In addition, significant federal American Recovery Act funding has been dedicated toward environmental restoration, and $25 million in additional funding is available for springs restoration. With this investment, DEP has identified three additional springs projects totaling more than $17 million.

For a list of all awarded springs projects, visit here.


DEP Strengthens Florida’s Resiliency Efforts

On May 12, 2021, Governor DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 1954, establishing the Resilient Florida Program, which ensures a comprehensive approach to Florida's coastal and inland resiliency. The targeted funding and directives establish a structure for resiliency that follows the best available science and data while enhancing efforts to protect inland and coastal resources that act as natural defenses against sea level rise. This legislation is the largest investment in Florida’s history to prepare communities for the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, intensified storms and flooding.

The Resilient Florida program includes a selection of grants available to counties, municipalities, water management districts, flood control districts and regional resilience entities. To effectively address the impacts of flooding and sea level rise that the state faces, eligible applicants may receive funding assistance to analyze and plan for vulnerabilities, as well as implement projects for adaptation and mitigation.

DEP received 581 applications with over $2.3 billion requested in funding. From this list, DEP developed a prioritized list of projects that comply with Resilience Plan requirements and on Dec. 7, 2021, DEP submitted the first ever Statewide Flooding Resilience Plan to the Governor and Legislature for consideration during the 2022 legislative session. This three-year plan includes funding proposals for 76 infrastructure projects across the state totaling over $270 million.

Florida Enacts Legislation to Create a Wildlife Corridor

In July 2021, Governor DeSantis signed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, Senate Bill 976, directing DEP to encourage and promote investments in areas that protect and enhance the Florida Wildlife Corridor through the Florida Forever program. The Wildlife Corridor builds on and continues the decades of work by numerous scientists and conservation organizations that recognize corridors as a critical way to address habitat loss and fragmentation across Florida.

There are 1.46 million acres within the Florida Wildlife Corridor that are a high priority for conservation through the state’s Florida Forever program. $300 million was dedicated from the Florida Leads budget to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor in addition to the $100 million that was allocated to the Florida Forever program.

DEP’s Division of State Lands is working to secure properties in the same manner as Florida Forever acquisitions. DEP has recently acquired five properties within the newly designated Florida Wildlife Corridor totaling more than 7,000 acres:

  • Etoniah Creek Cross Florida Greenway – Located on the west side of Ocala National Forest and the Cross Florida Greenway, this series of 25 parcels totaling 1,900 acres is strategic to buffering the Ocklawaha River.
  • Wolfe Creek Forest – This 1,786-acre strategic phased acquisition between Blackwater River State Forest and Naval Air Station Whiting Field marks a partnership with The Trust for Public Land, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Legacy Program, U.S. Department of Defense and Santa Rosa County.
  • Upper St. Marks – Located east of Tallahassee, this 729-acre parcel widens a very narrow constriction between two managed areas (Aucilla Wildlife Management Area and Plank Road State Forest).
  • Devil’s Garden – Located within the western Everglades headwaters, this acquisition is a continued phased purchase of a very large project with significant water and wildlife benefits, including habitat support for the Florida panther.
  • Coastal Headwaters – This strategic acquisition of 2,115 acres connects two blocks of land that will be managed as part of Blackwater River State Forest through partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Legacy Program and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Acres for America programs.

Florida Continues its Record as a National Leader in Conservation through the Florida Forever Program

Florida's land conservation programs support Florida's economy and the preservation of our quality of life. Land conservation programs protect water resources and wildlife habitat, and they offer flood control and coastal buffering during storms. Protecting these resources also provides increased recreational opportunities including public beach access.

Florida Forever, Florida’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, provides the blueprint for conserving natural resources and the state’s natural and cultural heritage. During 2021, the Division of State Lands closed on 37 acquisitions within 14 Florida Forever projects totaling more than 14,280 acres, 14,141 of which are within the newly designated Florida Wildlife Corridor.

In 2021, the team also brought eight acquisition items to the Governor and Cabinet sitting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund for approval along with:

Additionally, DEP assists communities in protecting important natural resources and provides funding to local governments and eligible nonprofit organizations to acquire land for conservation, and in 2021:

  • The Florida Communities Trust Governing Board approved six projects totaling $10 million in funding for the acquisition of conservation land by local governments vital to the state’s economy and ecology.
  • The National Park Service awarded $7.8 million in funding through the Land and Conservation Fund Program to 11 local governments for the acquisition and development of land for public outdoor recreation purposes.
  • 40 local governmental entities were awarded almost $2 million in funding through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program to develop land in local communities for public outdoor recreation.

Florida State Parks Welcome Nearly 30 Million Visitors in 2021

People from around Florida, the nation and the world enjoy experiencing … the Real Florida. During 2021, nearly 30 million visitors enjoyed Florida State Parks, generating nearly $71 million in revenue for the state of Florida along with an estimated economic impact of more than $4 billion.

Florida’s award-winning state parks also enjoyed a year of achievement. In addition to managing more than 80,000 acres with prescribed fire and removing more than 9,000 acres of invasive exotic vegetation, Florida State Parks:

  • Added and prepared to open two new properties in the Florida Panhandle: the Bluffs of St. Teresa and William J. Rish Recreational Area.
  • Reopened T.H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park and the campground at Florida Caverns State Park following devastating impacts from Hurricane Michael in 2018.
  • Celebrated 50 years of prescribed fire and 2 million total acres burned.
  • Transitioned to a new provider for online reservations and point-of-sale systems to streamline visitor experience.
  • Opened a new, state-of-the-art visitor center at Lovers Key State Park.

Working in partnership with the Florida State Parks Foundation, Florida State Parks:

  • Expanded accessibility with the first-ever wheelchair-accessible glass-bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park and beach wheelchairs available at all coastal parks.
  • Unveiled the Florida State Parks specialty license plate.
  • Planted 100,000 longleaf pines, with the goal for another 100,000 set for 2022.


Florida Maintains its Designation as the Most Populous State to Meet All Stringent Federal Air Standards

In 2020, DEP reached an important milestone in its air quality protection efforts after announcing Florida meets all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) statewide. Since that time, Florida continues to meet all the NAAQS statewide. This is the culmination of several years of collaborative efforts between DEP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and industry to reduce emissions and improve air quality for Floridians. These efforts have not only resulted in Florida continuing to have the cleanest air on record but also to its remaining the most populous state in the United States to meet these stringent federal standards.

DEP Expands EVCI, Procures Electric School Buses and Funds DERA Projects through the Volkswagen Settlement

Under the Volkswagen Settlement, Florida was allotted $166 million to improve air quality. Florida’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, finalized in October 2019, outlines how the state intends to spend the full award under this settlement. This plan focuses on the construction of new electric vehicle charging stations, the procurement of electric buses for select school districts and transit agencies and funding Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) projects.

Of the $166 million provided to Florida in the settlement, $25 million is provided for EVCI, $25 million is available through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) and $116 million is available for school, transit or shuttle buses.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations:

  • Under EVCI Phase 2, the state of Florida is funding 34 charging stations along I-10, I-75, I-95 and I-4 that will add 150 fast chargers to the existing publicly available inventory. This builds upon EVCI Phase 1 which has already installed six charging stations along I-75, I-95 and I-4 and will construct 20 more stations over the next year.

Electric School Buses:

  • DEP published a Notice of Funding Availability for the allocation of $57 million to purchase Type C or Type D electric school buses for school districts within air quality priority areas, as specified in Florida’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. These buses are intended to replace Type C or Type D diesel school buses.
  • The state of Florida is funding the purchase of 218 electric school buses for seven school districts: Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota districts.

Looking Forward Into 2022

"I am grateful for the journey ahead of me and it is an honor to be asked to serve as secretary of DEP at a time when the Governor and the Legislature have made Florida’s environment a top priority.  

"Alongside the great team of dedicated professionals at DEP, together, I know we can, and will, continue to build on the momentum created over the past several years. I will continue to focus on science-driven environmental policy to ensure success through partnerships and strategic investments in projects and initiatives. Thank you, Governor DeSantis, for your clear pursuit of protecting Florida now and for the future."

- DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton