Problems with the Statewide Water Policy

Blue Heron taking flight over a lake. Photo credit: shaferaphoto / Shutterstock

In January, Lawmakers and the Governor passed a major water policy law. Though the new law is flaunted by state lawmakers as a strong policy that will protect springs and dedicate money for water, there are several weaknesses.

In December, 106 organizations sent a letter to Speaker Steve Crisafulli asking for nearly a dozen amendments to strengthen the bill to truly reform water policy in Florida. The groups asked for revisions to consumptive use permitting, modifying water supply and resource planning, and an annual assessment of water resources and conservation lands.  The letter also sought the creation of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act and a restructuring of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.

Listed below are major flaws:

  • No focus on water conservation - Conserving water is the most cost-effective and sustainable alternative to increasing the state’s supply of water.
  • Key deadlines missing - Lawmakers failed to set deadlines for establishing regulations that would help restore water quality in already impaired waters.
  • No standards for pollutants - The plan does not set standards for the volume of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are allowed in our water.
  • Inaction on Best Management Action Plans - The bill proposes the establishment of management plans for the Lake Okeechobee and the rivers and estuaries of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River, and sets water-flow levels for springs and set guidelines for the Central Florida Water Initiative. But there is no deadline for the adoption of most Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) The bill does
  • Water Management Districts further weakened - The bill diminishes the autonomy of Water Management Districts (WMD) in water use and planning decisions. If a WMD denies a permit, the decision is reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). WMD’s , already strapped for resources, will likely buckle to industry and political pressure and approve permits that should not be approved.
  • Lack of monitoring - Meeting the water supply needs of the future requires knowing how much water is being used today. Unfortunately the plan does not include adequate monitoring of groundwater withdrawals of more than 100,000 gallons per day.
  • Extending targets dates - By extending the due dates to achieve targets on the volume of pollution allowed to enter waterways, it will cost more money now and for future generations.
  • Insufficient pollution prevention - The bill is weak when it comes to pollution prevention. For example, successful programs like the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) Works of the District (WOD) permitting program does not include as a model for other areas of the state like Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. The law would take control away from local governments who want to adopt urban fertilizer regulation standards to adequately address sources of pollution-laden stormwater runoff.
  • Supporting special interests at taxpayers expense - Private interests would receive public funds with no assurance of cost-effectiveness. For example, the Central Florida Water Initiative plans include surface water withdrawal projects that total nearly $1.8 billion, to be paid for with tax dollars and implemented and operated by private companies; this represents a massive transfer of public money to private pockets.

Read the letters sent to lawmakers here.