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Manatee official chosen to tackle red tide algae on Florida water policy committee

Rain recharges Braden River, turns Lakewood Ranch green

Ranch supervisors ask residents to conserve water. Since late May, more than 9 inches of rain have been recorded at Lakewood Ranch, making lawn watering unnecessary.
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Ranch supervisors ask residents to conserve water. Since late May, more than 9 inches of rain have been recorded at Lakewood Ranch, making lawn watering unnecessary.

A local government official will have a say in statewide water regulation rules.

The Florida Association of Counties announced Tuesday that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has been elected to serve on the organization’s Water Policy Committee. The group, comprised of 37 Florida commissioners, determines policy statements used to guide lobbying discussions during legislative sessions.

Baugh, who was elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2012, will “play a key role in addressing the widespread water crisis affecting Florida coastlines, lakes, springs, estuaries and river,” according to a press release. She is the only Manatee commissioner serving on the committee.

“A number of local leaders from across the state stepped forward to participate. This committee represents the diverse water needs from every water basin in the state and their commitment to their communities and willingness to address these recurring issues head on,” said Karson Turner, FAC President and Hendry County Commissioner.

This year, the newly formed committee is expected to work closely with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently signed an executive order urging the state to “engage local governments” as the state works to protect Florida waters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, two days into office, discusses executive orders he signed to address the red tide issues impacting the state.

“Our environment is something we need to stop fooling with,” Baugh said, adding that she has been “pleasantly surprised” with DeSantis’ water policy overhauls since he took office last month.

The first committee meeting will be held in Tallahassee on March 27. Combating red tide and blue-green algae will be the focus of their conversations, Baugh predicted.

Jeff Greene, candidate for governor of Florida, flies over Lake Okeechobee to inspect the algae bloom on the east shore on July 11, 2018. The algae bloom has triggered concern after the 2016 algae bloom crisis.

“When you have a situation that the whole state of Florida has been dealing with for the last couple of years, we realize the importance of coming up with solutions. We’ll need to look at how we can alleviate some of these problems,” Baugh explained. “Water quality deals our quality of life, drinking water and economic impact.”

Commissioners from across the state will be tasked with finding recommendations for legislators and the governor’s office to consider. Baugh said they’ll rely on research from scientists such as the ones at Mote Marine and consider which policies would reduce the frequency of harmful algae blooms.

“Everything we do in this state is affected by our water quality, so it behooves us to come up with a plan to alleviate the issues,” she said. “We must be successful in that.”

Residents in Manatee County’s Whitfield/Bayshore Gardens neighborhood woke up to thousands of dead fish and a dead shark in their backyards in Bowlees Creek after the red tide carnage started to flow into the waterway from Sarasota Bay Wednesday.

Commissioners Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Carol Whitmore were chosen to serve on the Growth, Agriculture, Transportation & Environment (GATE) Policy Committee and the Health and Safety Policy Committee, respectively. Commissioner Stephen Jonsson was appointed to serve on FAC Board of Directors, as well.

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Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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