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Florida Clean Water and Public Health Legislation Vetoed

Surfrider Foundation and its Florida network is deeply disappointed by Governor DeSantis’s decision to veto HB165 Sampling of Beach Waters and Public Notification, aka 'Safe Waterways Act' despite unanimous bipartisan support from Florida lawmakers during the 2024 legislative session. This bill would have kept beachgoers safe and informed regarding the risks of swimming when recreating in Florida's beach waters. 

Florida is a state plagued by water woes, largely triggered by outdated or failing wastewater infrastructure that has repeatedly polluted local waterways and beach waters. The resulting input of untreated sewage into coastal waters has resulted in harmful algal blooms, fish kills, and public health crises for beachgoers throughout the state. This crisis has worsened in recent years with the compounding impacts of climate change, with emerging water quality concerns like vibrio, a flesh-eating bacteria, reported in areas where water is contaminated by wastewater and sewage spills. While the state has invested significant funding to address wastewater contamination and infrastructure upgrades, it has not taken the  steps urgently needed to improve water quality monitoring and public notification to keep people safe or to identify the sources of pollution. 

Enter Surfrider’s Florida network, which has long advocated for funding for the Florida Healthy Beaches program, the state’s beach water quality monitoring program that is administered by the state and county health departments. Surfrider has long pushed to restore state funding that was eliminated in 2011 to address gaps that have left beachgoers without critical public health information to know if it's truly safe to swim and recreate at Florida beaches for years. This program has suffered from weak and unenforceable state statute, which in tandem with lack of funding has made understanding the risks of swimming in Florida beach waters murky at best. 

In 2019, Surfrider successfully advocated for $500,000 in funding for the Florida Healthy Beaches Program in the FY 2019-20 budget. Sadly, this funding only lasted for one funding cycle and the state program has since returned to the status quo. Since 2022, Surfrider has worked with partners at Calusa Waterkeeper to support the Safe Waterways Act. While the bill has evolved over the years as we have built interest and support in the State Legislature, the 2024 iteration of the bill would protect public health through stronger requirements for monitoring and notification, including: 

  • Requiring the adoption and enforcement of rules to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons using beach waters and public bathing places,
  • Requiring the immediate issuance of public health advisories when a water body fails to meet water quality standards,
  • Requiring the closure of beaches that fail to meet standards if deemed necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare, 
  • Prescribing conspicuous signage requirements for health advisories and requiring placement at beach access points and near affected waters, and
  • Delegating clear authority and responsibility to local governments and agencies for maintenance and coordination to implement signage requirements. 

Our network helped craft this legislation with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, including Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman, Representative Lindsay Cross, Senator Lori Berman, and Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, advocated for this bill during Surfrider’s annual fly-in to Tallahassee during two legislative sessions, sent countless emails, made countless phone calls, testified in committee hearings, published earned media coverage, created a clean water film to support this campaign, featured this legislative solution in the 2022 Clean Water Report, participated in a press conference with sponsors, and supported the bill relentlessly from committee meetings to final passage on the floor. 

Unfortunately this collaborative work did not result in a new state law, and as Floridians, their families, and tourists flock to the beach this summer, they will not know if it is truly safe to go in the water because of the veto of HB165. Despite this disheartening decision, we celebrate the incredible work and grassroots efforts of our volunteers and partners in the Florida network to propel this bill to unanimous passage in the Florida legislature. Surfrider will continue to fight for clean water to surf, swim, and play in, for all people in Florida, and we look forward to supporting legislation to protect public health and ensure clean water for Florida beachgoers in 2025.