Florida Ag Commish To Legislature: Let's Make Water A Priority

Oct 8, 2013

Apalachicola Bay
Credit Ebyabe

Heads of the agencies that help manage Florida’s water supply told state lawmakers Tuesday it’s time to make smart water-management policies a legislative priority. The state’s water quality and water quantity problems don’t have clear quick fixes.

Water policy is the top concern for state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

"There is now not a single corner of the state that is not impacted by this," he said.

Putnam asked lawmakers on two House committees to keep the long-term picture in mind when making any laws or spending money relating to water this session.

“The good lord and Mother Nature are the ultimate appropriators when it comes to water, and they get to vote last. And so, whatever solutions that we work through this session should not be tailored to the problems that we encountered this summer," he said.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard says he welcomes any state money that can go toward water restoration projects.

“What I will commit to ya’ll to do is making sure that whatever money you give me, that we will use it in a common-sense way and science-based solutions," Vinyard said.

But he noted a solution will not come overnight in the troubled Indian River Lagoon, where the state is waiting on about a quarter-million dollars in federal funding for reservoir construction and water treatment.

And in the trouble spot of Apalachicola Bay, a recent lawsuit against Georgia is a last-ditch effort to save a devastated oyster industry. Jon Steverson, director of the bay’s water management district, says it’s worth a shot.

“I applaud Governor Scott and the secretary getting up there and fighting for these people," he said.

Steverson says Florida uses a tiny fraction of the water Georgia does from a disputed tri-state river basin. In a decades-long court battle, Florida has already unsuccessfully tried to get a court to order the Army Corps of Engineers to increase water flow to Apalachicola.

“Representative Goodson, you know you and I talk hunting all the time. I do a lot of that in Georgia.  They’re going to steal our water; I’m going to kill their deer and turkeys. That’s the best I can do right now,” he said.

Officials could not give lawmakers a timeframe for when the latest suit will be settled.