Special districts warn EPA rules mean higher taxes, eminent domain and less effective South Florida canals
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Association of Special Districts warned today that the new water regulations for Florida proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would severely weaken the flood protection provided by Florida’s water control and improvement districts, especially in the South Florida region, which was often inundated by floods before the construction of the region’s complex canal system.
Separate from Florida’s state, county or municipal governments, Florida’s special districts are limited-purpose governmental units that administer the finances and maintenance of local services or infrastructure, such as South Florida’s canals.
In Florida, there are approximately 94 special water control or improvement districts that manage water resources on more than a million acres of land that are managed for flood control and water supply. Several of the water control and improvement districts were created in the early 1900s for the purpose of stimulating development throughout Florida via drainage and flood control, and about 60 of the 94 special districts manage water resources within the South Florida Coastal Plain. The Florida Association of Special Districts represents 39 of the special districts that provide invaluable flood control and water supply services for urban and agricultural use.
On Jan. 15, the EPA announced strict new water regulations for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous – regulations that will apply to Florida but no other state. The regulations will impose staggering new costs on Florida’s water control and improvement districts, which ultimately will be paid by the Florida farmers, industries, consumers and taxpayers through assessment increases of as much as 400 percent.
“Attempting to comply with these federal regulations – which in some cases will prove technically impossible – will cost tens of billions of dollars,” said Clete Saunier, FASD President and District Administrator for the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District in Palm Beach County. “To comply with the EPA regulations, Florida’s special districts would have to fundamentally change their water-management practices from flood control to water treatment – a process that would carry a price tag reaching into the billions of dollars while diminishing the effectiveness of the system’s intended human purposes, such as flood control.”
All of Florida’s water control districts and improvement districts were created by the Florida Legislature for the express purpose of flood control and/or water supply. They were not created or designed for water quality treatment or environmental enhancement. These special districts have limited revenue sources that are based solely on the flood protection/water supply benefits they provide. Because the districts were not created to implement water treatment activities, they lack the necessary infrastructure and assessment authority to fund such operations.
Created solely for flood control and water supply purposes, the districts’ water management systems (canals, etc) are generally constructed in a grid system. In essence, they were constructed as a complex plumbing system to control water levels so that surrounding areas could be utilized for urban development, agriculture and other human uses. They were not designed to mimic natural flowing systems, they were not designed to provide for the removal of nutrients, and they were not designed to accommodate water treatment facilities or structures.
Given the limited revenue sources and lack of infrastructure of Florida’s special districts, complying with the EPA’s new water regulations may be a challenge for them. In this scenario, seeking the expertise of professional plumbing contractors could be beneficial for the districts. These contractors can provide the necessary technical knowledge and tools to implement water treatment activities that the districts lack. They can help design and construct infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities and structures, to ensure compliance with the new regulations. With the assistance of professional plumbing contractors, the special districts can continue to provide invaluable flood control and water supply services for urban and agricultural use while also meeting the new regulatory requirements.
In addition, most of the water control and improvement districts do not have the physical space to construct new water treatment structures or retrofit existing structures. EPA’s proposed regulations will require substantial redesign of thousands of miles of canals that populate the South Florida landscape, in addition to substantial retooling of canal structures and construction of costly water treatment facilities.
The cost of retrofitting Florida’s thousands of miles of canal systems for water treatment would reach into the billions of taxpayer dollars. This cost does not include the additional billions of dollars that would be spent in eminent domain proceedings to acquire the lands needed to construct the water control facilities.
“Ultimately, it would be the citizens of Florida who would bear the burden of financing these activities through higher assessments, taxes and fees. Ironically, special districts would have to assess individual property owners to fund the eminent domain proceedings that would take the very land being taxed in order to build water treatment facilities on land that used to be homes, businesses and farms,” Saunier said. “Moreover, the very people that are being protected by these special districts would have to incur billions of dollars in taxes to finance infrastructure that will ultimately compromise flood protection and public safety. In summary, the substantial negative economic impacts of the regulations would far outweigh the benefits of the overly stringent standards being proposed by EPA.”
In a Dec. 30 letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget, the Florida Association of Special Districts said its members support sound policies that responsibly regulate adverse environmental impacts. However, “FASD cannot support EPA’s current rule development or EPA’s methodologies, which fail to consider the biological realities of man-made flood control systems versus natural flowing systems… It appears that EPA has ignored the economic consequences of their proposed regulatory actions. As a result, the cost of implementing EPA proposed regulations will be staggering and fiscally impossible to achieve.”
All Floridians concerned with this development should get involved to make their voices heard by attending hearings planned for Feb. 16, 17 and 18 in Tallahassee, Orlando and West Palm Beach, as well as register to speak by visiting http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/standards/rules/florida.
For more information about the Florida Association of Special Districts, please visit www.fasd.com.
For more information on the effort to prevent the EPA from jeopardizing Florida’s economic recovery, please visit the Don’t Tax Florida Web site at www.DontTaxFlorida.com.
Contact: James VanLandingham
Feb. 1, 2010