Legislature passes bipartisan ‘Safe Waterways Act’ to streamline contamination reporting
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 4/20/22-Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, speaks against the congressional redistricting map the Senate later approved, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Florida waterways, particularly those in South Florida, are prone to bacterial exposure due to aging wastewater systems, surface runoff and animal byproducts.

Florida lawmakers are sending a bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk designed to streamline the state’s reporting process following the contamination of public waters.

The bill (HB 165), aptly titled the “Safe Waterways Act,” would create a statewide system under the Department of Health (DOH) to send warnings and issue beach, canal and pool closures within 24 hours of a safety issue.

It also establishes an official process for city and county governments to report water problems to DOH and to display health advisory signage at affected areas.

Moreover, the bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to display its own health advisory signs for state-owned beach waters and public bathing places if they contain elevated levels of fecal coliform, E. coli or enterococci bacteria, which all typically come from sewage, fertilizer runoff and livestock byproducts.

“This bill will prevent unnecessary human illness and potentially even death,” said Boynton Beach Democratic Lori Berman, the bill’s Senate sponsor, ahead of the chamber’s 40-0 vote for it Thursday. The House passed the bill 113-0 on Monday.

“Members of the public are not being notified of these dangers,” Berman said. “The lack of accountability has made headlines, which is bad for tourism.”

Florida’s waterway health, particularly in South Florida that are prone to regular bacterial exposure and fish kills, transcends political divides, Berman added.

“This has been a real bipartisan bill of the ‘water women warriors,’” she said after thanking the bill’s other sponsors, Miami Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Lindsay Cross and Highland Beach Republican Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman.

Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell commended them on the “very good bill,” which kicks in July 1 unless DeSantis vetoes it. She spoke briefly about a friend who nearly lost an arm after falling off a dock into contaminated water.

The “Safe Waterways Act” is something of a sequel and nominal nod to the bipartisan “Clean Waterways Act” of 2020. Sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Bobby Payne, the law among other things moved water monitoring from the DOH to the DEP and authorized the agency to preemptively inspect water treatment systems.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it on June 30, 2020, he called the measure “probably the most comprehensive bill we’ve seen in quite some time.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    March 8, 2024 at 8:03 am

    Queue the German tourists being eaten by alligators after hearing news of how Florida’s waterways are now “safe” in 3, 2, 1….

    But only if they avoid getting shot first

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