Water Bill Critics Can't Fathom Some Changes

Apr 8, 2015

A massive, industry friendly rewrite of state water policy continued churning through the Senate Wednesday.  Some critics contend the policy changes are a mile wide and only a few inches deep.

Florida's iconic springs target of Senate water policy.
Credit Wiki Watchee Springs

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government was a sea of acronyms as it sifted through the legislation. They make up the genetic code of its new plan for protecting ground water supplies, springs and the coffee colored Lake Okeechobee.

Here’s the bill’s sponsor, Republican Charlie Dean of Inverness.

“It requires monitoring of groundwater withdraws above 100 thousand gallons or more per day. It requires BMAP (bee-map) to have 5, 10 and 15-year milestones to achieve the TMDL.”

The translation, according to Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper, is a lot of words and not much cleanup or protection.

“The bill does nothing to accelerate the cleanup of Lake Okeechobee. We never thought it was necessary to put this section on Lake Okeechobee into law.”

The new policies are far reaching, supporters say. But they rely heavily on an old technique called BMAPs, or basin management action plans. And Everglades Coalition Lobbyist Stephanie Kunkel says their track record isn’t stellar.

“The latest BMAP results were just put in and over the last five years the pollution levels have not decreased and we want to make sure we’re dealing with all of the tools in the toolbox when we’re looking at the Caloosahatchee River.”

There is no agriculture without water and much of the bill was written by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

And that means the bill also leans heavily on BMPs, or best management practices. They give farmers and ranchers more flexibility to police themselves. But Florida Farm Bureau attorney Frank Matthews insists that doesn’t mean his clients get a free ride.

“BMPs are flexible, but there’s still accountability. You have to improve water quality. You have to be monitored and you have to have quality. That’s what gets us to where we need to go.”

Greg Munson, a former administrator at the Department of Environmental Protection, is riding heard for big business. Munson’s an attorney with a silk stocking firm and represents Associated Industries of Florida.

Munson sees little to criticize in the bill.

“With the addition of the provisions addressing the central Florida Water Initiative, and the Everglades, it fully addresses Florida’s needs.”

The Senate bill ostensibly sets July 1 of next year for regulators to establish minimum flow levels for most freshwater springs. If they’re not in place, emergency rules kick in.

But like the limestone aquifer that feeds the springs, the deadlines are porous. And Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen warns they’re hardly forward looking.

“This would mean that they establish by rule, an MFL, MFL’s are established by rules and it would expire in 90 days per this language.”

If another industry gets its way, septic tanks, at least high-tech versions, would be allowed in sensitive areas. That’s the agenda of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association.