The House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will consider draft bill language that would address springs, Lake Okeechobee and central Florida’s water future.
Florida’s springs have become choked with weeds and algae caused by nitrogen in groundwater from a variety of sources including septic tanks, sewage treatment plants, lawn fertilizer and farms.
Last year, SB 1576 would have required wastewater utilities near springs to upgrade to advanced treatment.
The bill initially would have provided $376 million a year for improved wastewater treatment but that funding later was stripped from the bill, prompting opposition from cities and counties.
SB 1576 passed the Senate 38-0 with support from environmental groups but the House didn’t take up the measure. House leaders said they wanted to take a comprehensive approach to water issues in 2015.
This year, the draft committee bill would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to complete an assessment of water quality for the states 33 largest springs, called “first magnitude” springs. DEP would be required to draw boundaries for springs protection areas and adopt them as rules by July 1, 2016.
DEP would be required to set pollution limits for all impaired springs, but there is no requirement for advanced wastewater treatment in those areas around springs. Instead, DEP would be required to begin developing pollution reduction plans within a year after setting pollution limits, called total maximum daily loads.
Last year’s Senate bill would have required farms near impaired springs to implement agricultural best management practices. The draft bill this year includes the same requirement but appears to allow farmers to bypass the requirement by instead conducting water quality monitoring.
The draft bill also addresses water pumping by requiring water management districts to adopt or revise their “minimum flows and levels” set for springs and simultaneously adopt strategies to address over-pumping. The draft bill doesn’t appear to require an accelerated timetable as the Senate bill did last year for setting those minimum flows.
“The bill appropriately prioritizes science-based regulatory programs as a means to restore and protect our state’s springs,” said David Childs, who represents wastewater utilities in the Florida Environment Water Association-Utility Council. “We have the tools in the toolbox. This bill makes sure we use them.”
The draft bill also would require DEP to establish an interagency agreement with three water districts and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the Central Florida water Initiative, a five-county planning area that includes Orlando.
And the draft bill also would update and restructure the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Act to reflect the adoption by DEP of pollution plans Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River estuary and the St. Lucie River and estuary.
The draft language appears to pre-empt the water quality standards set under South Florida Water Management District’s “works of the district” (WOD) permitting program and replace them with the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Program. That is raising concerns with Audubon Florida, said Eric Draper, the group’s executive director.
“We are not certain that the replacement of that water quality regulation with an essentially voluntary program will be adequate to achieve the goals of the Lake Okechobee Protection Plan,” Draper said. Other lobbyists representing cities, counties and utilities could not be reached for comment.
The committee meets at 4 p.m. in room 17 of the House Office Building.
The draft bill language and a committee staff analysis can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov.
Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.