FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
By JIM TURNER
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 13, 2016………. A statewide water-policy bill, a priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, was approved Wednesday by the Senate without changes sought by environmental groups.
The business-backed measure (SB 552), which has been in the works for more than two years and was rushed through the committee process, now moves to the House, where it is expected to be taken up Thursday.
“This addresses South Florida problems uniquely different from Central Florida problems, uniquely different from Northeast Florida problems and Northwest Florida problems, and does it because we’re using science,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who was among a group of senators who pushed for protections for the state’s natural springs. “This bill will revolutionize, in my opinion, the way we handle water as a statewide resource.”
The measure drew unanimous support, with a number of Democrats saying they would eventually seek changes that have been proposed by environmental groups.
“It doesn’t have everything we want, but that is kind of the way it is in the Legislature,” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, echoed Soto in saying that there will be efforts in future years to correct “deficiencies” in the bill.
Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy called it “a happy day,” while adding that work on issues such as restoring springs will continue.
“I think protection of the springs and the Everglades and our water resources are never done,” Bowman said.
A number of environmental groups had recently come out in opposition to the bill, seeking changes that would include requiring the state to collect data on users that draw 100,000 gallons per day or more, requiring water-management districts to estimate maximum sustainable groundwater withdrawals for each district and putting a timetable on restoring natural springs.
The Senate vote came a day after Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the bill is one of three that he expects to go to Gov. Rick Scott this week. The annual legislative session started Tuesday.
The water proposal, in part, seeks to establish water-flow levels for springs and set guidelines for the Central Florida Water Initiative, which is a regional water-supply planning effort that involves the Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and regional water utilities.
The proposal also would further establish management plans for farming around Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and inland portions of the Caloosahatchee River watershed, and the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
The package also would require the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research to provide an annual assessment of the state’s water resources and conservation lands.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has been a key advocate of the proposal, went to the Senate floor to thank senators after the vote.
“This proposed legislation is a much-needed step forward that accounts for a long-term, science-based and strategic approach to protecting our water,” Putnam said in a prepared statement after the vote.