Passage of SB 552 provides a strong foundation for a comprehensive statewide policy that addresses key aspects of water management, water quality and water supply. Plus VCARD/FCARD perspective.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – January 16, 2016 – The Florida House overwhelmingly approved a statewide water-policy bill strongly backed by Florida Realtors heading into the 2016 legislative session. A day earlier, the Florida Senate unanimously supported the bill.
The bill (SB 552) was sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature, which is expected, and he has until Jan. 21, 2016, to sign it. Lawmakers have worked to advance the bill for more than two years.
"Passage of SB 552 provides a strong foundation for a comprehensive statewide policy that addresses key aspects of water management, water quality and water supply," says Carrie O'Rourke, Florida Realtors vice president of public policy.
"Florida's Realtors are passionate about the state's water resources," O'Rourke adds. "No matter where you live in Florida, there's a body of water that is a part of your community. We thank members of the House and Senate for passing this great bill."
Florida Realtors 2016 Talking Points outlined the soon-to-be law's benefits:
- It creates the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. The objective is to put programs in place that protect and restore water flow and water quality in the Florida aquifer, a massive body of fresh water than flows through porous rocks below the surface. The programs will also improve conditions at "outstanding Florida Springs."
- The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in cooperation with water management districts and other regional water supply authorities, will operate by a set of statewide standards for collecting and analyzing water supplies and water quality. Operating by one set of standards will ensure reliable data.
- It establishes water flow levels for the state's natural springs, and DEP will oversee pollution control measures for Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
Once signed by the governor, the new law becomes effective July 1, 2016. In addition to new rules, it will also create a starting point for future water protection measures.
© 2016 Florida Realtors® All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Another perspective with more details from the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (VCARD/FCARD)
MAJOR WATER POLICY BILL PASSES THE LEGISLATURE
By VCARD Vice Chair Cathleen C. Vogel (The Catalina Group)
As fully expected, Senate Bill 552 passed the legislature on January 14th – two days after the convening of the 2016 legislative session – and, as of this writing, is awaiting the Governor's signature to become law. This bill, and its House companion (HB 7005) have been three years in the making, beginning with Senator Dave Simmons' (R-Altamonte Springs) efforts several years ago to address the deterioration of Florida's magnificent springs. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) in the Senate and Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) in the House. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, and it was taken up in the House and passed with only two negative votes.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill creates the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act which addresses the roles of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the water management districts (WMDs), the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) and local governments in coordinating to maintain and protect Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS). OFS include all 1st magnitude springs and spring runs in the state, of which there are twenty-seven, as well as DeLeon, Peacock, Poe, Rock, Wekiwa and Gemini springs. The act requires that Minimum Flows and Minimum Levels be adopted for springs; that water quality issues including problematic septic tanks within Outstanding Florida Springs watersheds be addressed. The act also prohibits certain activities within the most at-risk springsheds including new domestic wastewater disposal facilities, new onsite sewage treatment, new hazardous waste disposal sites, land application of sludge and new agricultural operations that do not implement Best Management Practices.
In addition to the emphasis on springs protection, this significant water policy bill provides among other things that:
* The DEP will publish and maintain a database of publicly accessible conservation lands and report on the percentage of those lands that are accessible to the public.
* A pilot program will be established for alternative water supply development in regions of the state where new water allocations are restricted.
* The DEP will review consumptive use permits that are denied by a water management district based on potential impacts to Minimum Flows and Minimum Water Levels.
* Within the Central Florida Water Initiative area (the region generally within and surrounding the greater Orlando area where the Southwest Florida, St. Johns River and South Florida Water Management District boundaries coincide) there will be coordinated water supply planning, hydrologic planning models and annual conservation goals to ensure that water supply availability is sufficient to meet the needs of the area.
* The water management districts are required to adopt rules to promote water conservation, which may include extending water use permits. However, the bill also provides that the allocations in water use permits cannot be reduced as a result of conservation efforts.
* The bill promotes public-private partnerships for storing water on private lands to achieve hydrologic improvements, water quality and quantity benefits, groundwater recharge, and conservation.
* The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Research & Water Quality Monitoring Program is established to address phosphorus loadings to the lake and agricultural Best Management Practices, for which the DACS will take the lead, to reduce such nutrient loadings. For those interests that implement and maintain Best Management Practices, they are found to meet the requirements to protect the watershed.
* In addition to dealing with Lake Okeechobee, the bill also addresses water quality improvements in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers watersheds.
* Funding for Water Resource Development – that is, the need to plan and implement projects and activities to ensure adequate water supply – is also addressed in the bill. The water management districts are tasked with taking the lead in acquiring needed funding for regional projects that provide enough water for people, industry, agriculture and the environment.
A number of amendments were offered to the bill on the floor but were all defeated. These reflected the concerns of more than 100 environmental organizations which earlier had addressed a letter to Senate and House leadership requesting, among other things, that the bill do more to promote water conservation, require that all groundwater withdrawals of 100,000 gallons or more be metered and address deadlines for establishing Maximum Daily Loads and Maximum Levels.
However, the bill – a major priority for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) – had widespread support from business, realtors, and agriculture.
This is a wide-ranging bill, and for those with specific interests in water law and policy, you would be advised to review it carefully.