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Thursday, 07 January 2016 09:17

Our Waters in the Balance: Legislative Bill Deficiencies Could Impact Florida's Coasts, Lakes and Estuaries Featured

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In the 2016 legislative session, the Florida legislature has a unique and unprecedented
opportunity to enact comprehensive water policy that ensures sufficient water supply for
population growth, economic expansion, natural systems and reduce nutrient pollution
entering our waters.

While SB 552 and HB 7005 propose sweeping changes to current water law, there are
still critical deficiencies in the legislation that require amending in order to produce the
much needed balance in the use and proper management of our precious water
resources for human and environmental needs.
The proposed diminishment of Water Management District (WMD) autonomy in water
use and planning decisions and granting the Department of Environmental Protection
oversight of Consumptive Use Permit decisions will lead to needless additional
expenditures of taxpayers dollars and curtail the ability of WMD's to appropriately
consider Consumptive Use Permit applications and conditions.

WMD's should retain the authority to modify permitted allocations under consumptive
water use permits to avoid water reservation legal challenges and flexibility to meet the
end users actual water withdraw levels and reallocate water surplus for critical
environmental releases to restore springs, rivers and estuaries.

Given the uncertainty of seasonal fluctuations and increasing use of ground and surface
water due to anticipated population growth, water conservation is a more cost effective
and sustainable alternative to developing new water supplies. Several water
conservation measures including low volume drip irrigation, plugging abandoned free
flowing and improperly cased wells and a state wide graduated rate system for public
and private water utilities will significantly enhance the availability of future water
supplies.

The proposed replacement of the regulatory permitting process that includes
performance standards to address potential pollutant loading of freshwater riparian
systems and coastal estuaries with the sole reliance on ineffective Basin Management
Action Plans (BMAP) will lead to a reactive, ineffective and costly approach to
management of the state's water resources. BMAP's only go into effect after water
bodies are severely polluted, with the costs paid by taxpayers, instead of those
responsible for the pollution. It is also especially imperative that the Works of the District
be retained in the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program to ensure
compliance with target pollution levels and restore the Lake Okeechobee and
Caloosahatchee watersheds, rather than eliminated as currently proposed.

The Water bill also proposed to delay Lake Okeechobee clean up by eliminating a
January 2015 deadline -which the state didn’t meet - for compliance with nutrient levels
without creating a new deadline. More than 400 tons of phosphorus enter the lake each
year and the state was supposed to reduce it to 105 tons. Water quality is under the
purview of the state, so it is incumbent upon the state to enact proactive measures to
restore Lake Okeechobee and downstream rivers and estuaries with timely enforceable
deadlines for compliance.

To prevent excessive pumping of water from the state's aquifers, it is critical that WMD's
monitor all permitted consumptive water uses of more than 100,000 gallons per day due
to the significant drawdown of groundwater levels.
The Water bill is noticeably silent on enacting deadlines for compliance with Total
Maximum Daily Load's and Minimum Flows and Minimum Level's, except those
waterbodies designated as Outstanding Florida Springs. Measurable goals and effective
enforcement are essential to ensure the health of Florida’s water resources and to
protect the interests of the public. The requirement that “priority focus areas” for
Outstanding Florida springs include only the “most vulnerable areas” with “known
connectivity” will delay the creation of “priority focus areas” and exclude areas essential
to water quality restoration.

Finally, numerous local governments have implemented effective fertilizer ordinances to
prevent nutrient loading of waterways. The Water bill's reference to state sanctioned
urban fertilizer regulation standards could severely diminish the ability of a local
government to adequately address sources of pollution-laden stormwater runoff. The bill
language should be revised to clarify that this should not be the case.

Ray Judah
Coordinator Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition

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