Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, expressed concern Friday about contamination in Florida's water, saying the state and local governments have failed to fulfill one of their most basic jobs: ensuring people have access to safe, clean water.
"I'm very upset with the totality of what's happening to our water supply around the state," said Latvala, who will be the powerful Senate budget chairman next year. "It's maybe not as sexy as talking about tax cuts or new programs but it's just a fundamental responsibility of government to protect citizens and their water supply."
Months ago, green algae blooms caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee made national headlines. Then, in the wake of Hurricane Hermine, local governments including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Largo and Clearwater began dumping excess sewage into Tampa Bay. Now, a sinkhole has opened at a Polk County phosphate processing plant owned by fertilizer giant Mosaic, which both the state and company initially kept quiet.
These incidents, said Latvala, "all portend for some attention because it's just hard to imagine they're all happening at the same time."
He pointed specifically to cutbacks in staffing at the Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency charged with ensuring state waterways aren't polluted. But Latvala would not go as far as to say DEP is to blame for not taking a more active role.
"I don't know if there's any culpability there," he said of the Mosaic sinkhole. "I will tell you in Tampa Bay, DEP has been very responsive to the concerns of our delegation in Pinellas County."