Greg Strong: DEP's focus: Regs, water, parks
Published: Monday, January 9, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 10:34 p.m.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is charged with protecting Florida's precious natural resources — our water, land and air — for all of us. As the state's lead environmental agency, we are focusing on three priorities: ensuring a more efficient regulatory process that is interpreted consistently across the state, getting the water right in Florida, and giving Floridians and visitors more opportunities to enjoy Florida's award-winning state parks.
During these challenging times, it's easy to see that environmental protection and economic growth are complementary. Florida's beautiful natural resources are a big reason that people want to visit, live and do business in Florida.
First, we are fostering a culture of exceptional customer service and greater regulatory efficiency. This doesn't mean that we're relaxing our standards. Instead, we're taking a closer look at how we do things, to make sure our processes make sense for both the environment and for the citizens of our state.
The Northeast District is now offering targeted training, customized workshops and new online tools that make our processes more easily understood and our work more transparent.
DEP also is committed to getting the water right in Florida. The future of our state's environment and economy depend on the health of our water bodies. For the hundreds of businesses that thrive around the St. Johns River to the residents and visitors who enjoy fishing and boating, we understand that our waterways play a vital role in our way of life here in Northeast Florida.
That's why with the help of numerous local stakeholders and partners, DEP has developed and put in place a series of plans to substantially reduce the level of nutrients and bacteria in the Lower St. Johns River and its tributaries. Thanks to these partnerships, we are removing nearly 6 million pounds of nutrients per year from the river, and many of our area tributaries are already showing 50 percent less bacterial contamination.
These reductions are the direct result of important local projects. For example, Orange Park, Atlantic Beach, Clay County Utility Authority and JEA upgraded their wastewater treatment facilities to reduce nitrogen loads. The U.S. Navy, Green Cove Springs and the city of Palatka are implementing reuse projects that reduce both nitrogen and phosphorous. We have taken important steps to restore our river, and will continue to work with our stakeholders and our community to get the job done.
Finally, we want to give Floridians more opportunities to enjoy the best state park system in the country. Florida's state parks are more than just a source of fun and recreation, they also benefit our state's economy. Last year, more than 200 million visitors headed outdoors to enjoy Florida's natural resources at a state park, contributing nearly $1 billion to our local economies.
From Inverness to Fernandina and from Jacksonville to the Suwannee River, the DEP's Northeast District includes 34 parks with something to offer everyone. Special to this area are numerous freshwater springs, which are perfect for canoeing, kayaking or a picnic along the banks. At certain times of the year, you can even take on the challenge of Class III rapids.
The DEP is committed to ensuring a healthy environment, and we believe we can effectively protect our natural resources and help support the economy in the process. By focusing on our three priorities of regulatory efficiency and consistency, getting the water right, and getting Floridians outdoors to enjoy the amazing resources that we're working hard to protect, the DEP is ensuring that our environment is protected for future Floridians to live, work and play.
Greg Strong is the director of the Department of Environmental Protection's Northeast District.
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