Review: Florida’s new water quality website; the good, the bad and the really ugly

11-7-19 Florida website

Nov. 7, 2019 by David Silverberg

On Monday, Nov. 5, amidst much hooplah, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) unveiled a new state website, https://www.protectingfloridatogether.gov/, designed to inform Floridians of the state of their water quality.

The website has taken criticism for having outdated information but this may simply be a function of its newness.

But how well does it work as a website? The Paradise Progressive did a tour and can report the following:

  1. All non-scientific information functions as a DeSantis propaganda machine.

Here are the top four headlines and excerpts from their lead sentences:

WATER QUALITY IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR FLORIDA

That’s why, less than 48 hours after being sworn in, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order outlining his bold vision…

STATEWIDE EFFORTS

Governor DeSantis directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)…

BLUE-GREEN ALGAE TASK FORCE

Governor DeSantis took a major step forward…

RED TIDE TASK FORCE

Under Governor Ron DeSantis’ leadership the Red Tide Task Force…

A subsequent “Timeline” section is similar in tone and focus.

October 25th, 2019

GOVERNOR DESANTIS BREAKS GROUND ON EMBANKMENTS AND CANALS TO COMPLETE THE C-43 RESERVOIR

 

October 23rd, 2019

GOVERNOR DESANTIS ANNOUNCES REMOVAL OF TAMIAMI TRAIL ROADBED

 

October 22nd, 2019

GOVERNOR DESANTIS AND FLORIDA CABINET TAKE ACTION TO EXPEDITE CONSTRUCTION OF EAA RESERVOIR PROJECT

 

C’mon, guys, this is heavy-handed even by Stalinist standards.

If this hagiography is the result of some underling’s over-enthusiastic effort to impress his boss, I would expect even DeSantis to be embarrassed. If it’s a result of just throwing old press releases onto the site, it displays laziness. If this is what DeSantis himself wanted, then he’s clumsily trying to build a cult of personality.

More seriously, what it does is call into question the factual information in the rest of the site. If the introductory articles seem overly propagandistic, a user might reasonably expect the same from the rest. It’s a big turn-off.

We then get to the important stuff: Water Quality Status

  1. Not yet ready for prime time

Water quality status reports are provided for three regions: The Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. A pop-up announcement tells you that it will be expanded statewide next year.

Click on one of the regions and you have the option of seeing a map with health and algae alerts or a water quality overview. Using an unusual two-step process (control + scroll), a user can zoom in and out of the map, which is useful and shows sampling points and results. Clicking on sampling locations brings up data about that particular location.

Because the website currently shows only the three regions, other than the Caloosahatchee River outlet, there is no data for other Southwest Florida beaches or anywhere else on the Gulf coast. As the pop-up states, data for the rest of the state will be coming in the future.

The website’s navigation is somewhat awkward, particularly the zooming in and out on the maps. Exploring the site is a clunky, step-by-step process that each user needs to conduct individually. Anyone accustomed to intuitive Apple-like navigation is going to be disappointed.

The site reports on the status and activities of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, the Red Tide Task Force and a variety of other Florida environmental projects and programs. They’re useful, although at least on my computer their maps were slow-loading.

One of the most important elements of the website is also one of its least prominent—what individuals can do to help reduce pollution and mitigate water quality problems. There are excellent tips but this function of the site is relatively buried and a user has to hunt for it. Rather than paeans to the governor, this might have been more useful to feature up front.

The bottom line

The website is useful and certainly is light years ahead of anything that previous governor Rick Scott ever did on environmental issues. It is definitely a step in the right direction and it will go some way toward enlightening Floridians about water issues and how they’re being tackled.

This could be a scientific, informative and authoritative site.

However, DeSantis and his people clearly decided to make it a propaganda vehicle. Instead of a dignified and discreet picture of DeSantis and his seal at the top, just to remind you that he’s there, they decided to hit the user over the head with a DeSantis sledgehammer.

The site in its current state is not really ready for prime time and it’s surprising that it was rolled out now. Much is lacking; as it notes, statewide data is unavailable and navigation needs to be improved. The site should be redesigned with the user in mind rather than the governor.

The great thing, though, about websites is that they’re flexible and can always be changed and upgraded.

So far DeSantis has shown a real commitment to environmental protection. We will see in the days ahead whether he has an equally real commitment to objective environmental reporting.

I’d suggest revisiting it in six months to see if there’s any improvement.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 David Silverberg

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