Weak Water Laws Opposed by Nearly All Environmental Groups

Bad water bills slide (1)

The current water bills before the Florida Legislative session about to begin have been much in the news.  Today Jan 11, 2016, the Gainesville Sun has run an article by Daytona Beach News Journal writer Dinah Voyles Pulver which gives a run-down of the issue but which minimizes somewhat the strong opposition to these inadequate bills.

Voyles Pulver mentions a letter representing 106 groups and individuals which opposed the bills, sent to the legislators.  The Florida Springs Council represents over one hundred thousand Florida citizens, and have made very public recommendations required in order for them to support the bills.  Of the many environmental groups in Florida, only two support these bad bills.

Sponsors of the bills have already expressed an unwillingness to compromise and will likely remain intransigent on this issue.

Continue reading here to see this article:Scroll

Sweeping water legislation could pass early

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 9:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 9:58 p.m.
DianaVoylesPulver
Dinah Voyles Pulver

After two years of promising legislation to help Florida’s springs, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, state legislators appear ready to adopt a sweeping environmental resources bill this session.

Both the House and Senate are expected to adopt legislation during the first week of the session that starts Tuesday, with support from two of the state’s largest environmental groups but objections from more than 100 others.

The 150-page environmental resource bill — the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act — contains provisions for water resource protection and restoration and directs the state to prepare a comprehensive database of all publicly owned lands in Florida.

If the legislation is adopted, it will make sure the state is working toward preservation of its aquifer, its springs and estuaries, said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, a key sponsor.

“The environmentalists know this is a major accomplishment, in requiring these standards to clean up water resources within a certain time period,” Simmons said. “This means that cities and counties that are dumping water into the aquifer and rivers are going to have to put together a plan to stop it.”

The legislation, developed during more than two years of negotiations, represents collaborations from a broad array of interest groups. Its 35 sections include elements brought forward by agriculture interests, environmental groups, a council of the state’s largest private landowners, sugar growers and utilities.

That’s generally why the legislation is expected to pass so early in the session, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. For example, Draper said, utilities wanted to see unified practices among the water districts, which happens in the section devoted to the Central Florida Regional Water Initiative. He admits Audubon lost some of its battles, but is happy with new timetables and enforcement measures for cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and the springs. The new legislation will require the state to write rules to show exactly what enforcement measures will be, he said.

Among the key measures found in the bill:

• Sets guidelines for the Central Florida Water Initiative by requiring three water management districts to have common rules, science and projections for future water availability;

• It updates and restructures the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program;

• Sets deadlines for cleaning up springs;

• Establishes enforcement measures if the basin management plans and best management practices aren’t met;

• Requires an annual assessment of water resources and conservation lands;

• Requires the Department of Environmental Protection to publish an online, publicly accessible database of conservation lands where public access is compatible with conservation and recreation;

• Sets up rules and policies governing alternative water supplies and creates pilot programs for alternative water supply and nutrient and sediment reduction.

‘Missed opportunity’

The bill is opposed by the Florida Springs Council, as well as a separate coalition of 106 other environmental organizations, who had hoped to convince lawmakers to further amend the bill.

“What I’m hearing from the staffs in Tallahassee is that everybody loves it,” said Bob Palmer, a legislative committee chairman for the Springs Council. “They say: ‘We have agreement between the House and the Senate and it’s going to be hard to change.”

That disappoints Palmer and others. “There’s really nothing in there for conservation and nothing to significantly reduce water use or fertilizer use,” said Palmer. “It’s a huge missed opportunity.”

The problem is that the existing measures the state is using for clean up — basin management plans and minimum goals for water flow and levels — don’t work, said Palmer, a marine biologist who spent 25 years on Capitol Hill, before retiring a decade ago as director of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

The Council would support the bill if the four following amendments were made, said Palmer: strengthen water metering provisions to include all users over 100,000 gallons per day; require a maximum sustainable groundwater withdrawal for all water districts; include an independent study of water fees and designate one spring as a “restoration focus spring,” to be restored within 15 years.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said he will try once again, at the request of the other environmental groups, to propose amendments to try to make the bill stronger. Amendments Soto proposed for last year’s proposed legislation made it into the bill over the summer, dealing with some of the enforcement measures.

Soto said he recognizes this is “a real limited opportunity to pass some major policy changes.”

“We have to get something done or we could lose our window of opportunity this year,” he said.

Framework for funding

Simmons insists the new deadlines and enforcement measures will ensure the management plans and minimum flows do the job they’re designed to do. He is particularly pleased about the deadlines and enforcement if the basin management plans and best management practices aren’t met.

The key sponsor of the proposal in the House, Rep. Matt Caldwell, said the issues raised by the group will likely have to wait for future legislation, the News Service of Florida has reported.

“At this point the water package has been debated and negotiated for two years,” Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, told the News Service. “The kind of things they’re asking about I’m willing to talk about in a separate venue. This is not going to be the last natural-resources bill ever passed.”

Some opponents, including the Clean Water Network, fear the bill is centralizing authority for water and taking away regional control.

While other opponents also have expressed concern about handing over too much authority for water to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Draper said he’s hopeful they’ll see more progress by the department than they’ve seen from the South Florida Water Management District.

The Nature Conservancy also supports the legislation, in part because it “provides a framework for getting legislators to a point where they’re willing to appropriate significant funding for springs protection,” said Janet Bowman, the Conservancy’s director of legislative policy and strategy.

Some have questioned whether the statewide database of conservation lands is aimed at justifying legislators’ reluctance to buy more conservation land. However, Bowman said the database has been explained as “a gap analysis” to examine land management.

“Generally, more information is useful to legislators and the public in making good policy,” she said.

Back to top
Skip to content