The Florida Senate filed an appropriations bill in early February that is drawing scrutiny from environmentalists and outdoorsmen. After push back, the Florida Senate amended it on February 17 and addressed some concerns, but the bill still has problems.
Procedurally, the originally filed bill was brought forth late in the legislative session as a budget item, giving short notice to the public and the South Florida Water Management District (“SFWMD”) of changes proposed in it. The originally filed bill was dense with many cross references making it confusing to understand practically.
However, after reviewing it a few times, the main issue with the originally filed bill is that it required SFWMD to essentially certify to the Senate, House of Representatives, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection that any action it takes has no negative affect on agricultural water supply. Within the context of Florida water policy, water management decisions are give and take. All parties cannot receive all the water they want at all times. This kind of language prioritizing agriculture is impractical for all other interest groups, including the public interest in Everglades restoration and reduced coastal discharges, with no rationale or justification given and little notice. It is inappropriate policy making in the context of a budget bill and could have exposed SFWMD to lawsuits for prioritizing Everglades restoration projects as needed.
After push back, the Florida Senate amended the bill on February 17, and improved but did not perfect it. The amended bill still requires SFWMD to make a certification to the Senate, House of Representatives, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but calls for it to “balance the different interests across the system, including, but not limited to, safeguarding the water supply to society and the environment, reducing high-volume discharges to coastal estuaries, and providing for flood control.” This language makes the proposed certification more balanced to be sure.
However, it adds yet another level of bureaucratic process to implementing water policy that helps Everglades restoration and reduces coastal discharges. Is it necessary?
Note that legislation protecting existing water supply already exists at a federal level to a large degree in the Savings Clause of the Water Resources Development Act. There are pending lawsuits on this exact topic between sugar companies and the Army Corp of Engineers. Click here to read about them.
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