What Florida’s Leaders Are Saying About Comprehensive Water Policy Reform

Tallahassee, FL – Next week, the Florida Legislature is expected to resume consideration of the comprehensive water policy reform bill.  The legislation enjoys broad support from many of Florida’s most influential leaders and their organizations, representing business, agricultural, and conservation interests across the state.  Here’s what Florida leaders are saying about the bill:

 Tom Feeney, President and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida

 “The Florida Legislature is making an unprecedented commitment to the stewardship of our natural resources by considering this historic comprehensive water reform bill.  If approved, this bill will use industry standards – not draconian government mandates – to improve water quality and increase protections for our springs, which will ensure the availability of fresh drinking water for generations to come.  Floridians can be proud of the leadership House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have demonstrated on this issue. Representative Matt Caldwell and Senator Charlie Dean have also worked hard to develop a good product that will serve our state well. Throughout the process, House and Senate leaders made many concessions to craft a bill that reflects the will of everyone involved, including representatives from the agriculture, environmental, and business communities.”

 Temperince Morgan, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of Florida*

“We appreciate the Legislature including provisions to ensure that projects which produce water for the environment and for people are planned for concurrently. These changes will benefit Florida’s natural systems and provide water for Florida’s present and future economic growth and development.”

Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association

“Ensuring Florida is prepared to address future water supply and quality challenges is critical to our state’s continued economic growth, particularly in our hospitality and trade industries.  Without access to clean drinking water, Florida’s restaurants and hotels wouldn’t be able to operate.  The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association supports comprehensive water reform because it takes a forward-thinking approach to water conservation and proper management.”

Carrie O’Rourke, Florida Realtors® Vice President of Public Policy

“Florida’s Realtors® are passionate about the state’s water resources. No matter where you live in Florida, there’s a body of water that is a part of your community.  Florida Realtors supports a statewide water policy that safeguards healthy, clean and abundant supplies of water in our state.  HB 7005 by the State Affairs Committee and Representative Matt Caldwell and SB 552 by Senator Charlie Dean provide a strong foundation for a comprehensive statewide policy that addresses key aspects of water management, water quality and water supply.”

Barbara Sharief, President, Florida Association of Counties & Vice Mayor of Broward County

“FAC supports efforts in the Florida House & Senate to improve water quality throughout the state, especially in regard to our springs.  No one knows better the challenges and opportunities facing our rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers than those of us who live and play near them every day and it is why county involvement in local water issues is critical to the long term success of Florida’s water challenges.”

Matt Surrency, Florida League of Cities President and Mayor of Hawthorne

“These bills are an important step towards addressing one of Florida's most pressing policy needs.  The Legislature is providing a framework for collaboration and cooperation that will serve our state well in facing the challenges ahead.”

Barbara Miedema, ‎VP for Public Affairs & Communications at Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative

 “Florida’s sugar cane farmers have been on the front lines of water quality improvements for the past several decades, and the progress has been undeniable. This legislation builds upon the successes of the Everglades Agricultural Area’s Best Management Practices program.  We strongly support this legislation and appreciate the hard work of House and Senate leaders, who have developed a historic plan that will increase Florida’s commitment to solving water challenges in a big way.”

John Hoblick, President of the Florida Farm Bureau

“Supporting a comprehensive approach on water policy is incredibly important to Florida’s farmers.  This bill provides a balanced approach to creating a sustainable supply of plentiful, clean water for Florida’s unique environment, growing population and strong agriculture industry.  All these aspects are critical to our state and this legislation allows for continued improvement to our natural resources without harming the drivers of the economy.”

Ben Bolusky, CEO Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association

“Water is inseparably intertwined into the economic, environmental and cultural fabric of our great state. The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), representing Florida's $15.3 billion nursery and landscape industry, applauds members of the Florida House and Senate for their tireless work in crafting a science-based, common sense and comprehensive water policy which addresses Florida's current and future water challenges.”

Henry Dean, Former Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District

“This reform package is the most significant piece of water legislation to be considered by the Florida Legislature in the past forty years.  By recognizing the hard work happening at the local level by water managers around the state, this bill will increase our state’s commitment to managing our precious natural resources in a major way.  The bill increases protections for springs, holds water users to a higher standard, and looks to the future by ensuring Florida is prepared to handle future growth.”

*Not an H2O Coalition Member.

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Will You Take a Moment and Tell the Tampa Bay Times Where You Stand?

Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times just put out an open call asking readers what they expect from Amendment 1.  Will you take a moment and email Michael to let him know where you stand?

Just send your message to mvansickler@tampabay.com and feel free to borrow from some of the message points below:

- Amendment was was approved by 75 percent of Florida voters, and yet certain special interests are insisting it only be used for a narrow use, like land buying.  Florida already owns nearly 30 percent of the land in our state.  The Legislature should use the money on other projects that will actually increase and protect our water supply.

- I live in a community in Florida with significant challenges affecting our water resources, including beach erosion and saltwater intrusion.  I voted for it because I thought it would help to keep our water supply safe and clean and not go to buying up more land.

- I supported Amendment 1 because I believed the Legislature should always be committed to caring about the environment.  Now that the amendment has passed, I believe the Legislature should have discretion on how the funds are spent and the funding should go to projects that help keep our water clean and available.

Statement from AIF’s H2O Coalition Regarding the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation’s Passage of SB 918

Tallahassee, Fla. – Associated Industries of Florida’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis released the following statement regarding the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation’s passage of SB 918:

“We appreciate the Senate’s commitment to addressing water quality and quantity challenges this session.  We are encouraged by the progress they are making and appreciate that SB 918 has been broadened to address other concerns around the state.  These include restoration efforts in the Northern Everglades as well as the action plan outlined for the Central Florida Water Initiative.

While this bill is moving in the right direction, we have serious reservations about the springs component of the bill, which is based on untested science, adds additional layers of regulations, and provides no real environmental benefits.  We will continue to advocate for a bill that takes these concerns into account and look forward to working with the Senate to improve the bill.”

This isn’t a game of ‘Monopoly’! Greedy government should take care of land they have before grabbing ours

When financial windfalls become available to the Florida Legislature, money vultures start salivating. Special interests move quickly to steer the cash to boost their agendas or wallets — fiscal responsibility be damned. Too many political operators are so anxious to get their hands on the dollars, they don’t think straight, ignoring any consequences that may come with their ill-conceived designs.

This time, it’s those who insist Florida ought to use Amendment One money to buy up huge tracts of land who are threatening the state’s financial future. These folks are full of bad advice and devoid of empirical evidence that their requests will do any good, pressing for the money to be spent in wrong-headed ways. Instead, let’s be smart and wait on any new spending plans for land, until we see unfinished, science-based programs completed as planned.

Voters passed Amendment One to the Florida Constitution last year, allocating a minimum level of state spending toward water and land conservation each year for the next 20 years. The $1 billion annual windfall sets the stage for abusive spending sprees.

Most environmental groups want to spend the money strictly to buy land, without understanding the repercussions. The fiscal impact will deliver a vicious blow to local needs, because when property is moved from private ownership to government, it depletes the tax rolls. Less taxable property means less revenue for local governments, meaning less for roads, public safety, education and infrastructure.

Florida’s budget and economy will also suffer, because the state’s obligations and costs will expand. When tax money or fees are used to buy land, government grows and ongoing expenses start to pile up. More government employees must be hired to oversee the land. Maintenance, equipment and repair expenses will balloon, overloading future budgets. Invasive species and foliage harmful to the local environment must be removed periodically. Brush fires and criminal drug trafficking must be addressed. Access roads and fences must be built. Park rangers, public restrooms, first-aid stations, elevated walkways and insurance needs may also add to the costs. Conservation land makes little or no contribution to the economy, which is weakened as private land is removed from production. Less production means less competitiveness. Basic free-market economics require the factors of production — land, capital and labor — be held privately.

Conveniently ignored is the vast amount of Florida land already owned by government at all levels. Twenty-seven percent of Florida land is already in conservation. That number grows to 33 percent when other government-owned property is included. Nearly half of Palm Beach County’s geography is already owned by state, federal or municipal governments. And let’s not forget that government-owned land departs from our Founding Fathers’ intent to protect private property.

There’s a better way. The spending should be steered to other land and water improvements, clean water and wildlife protection. With one-third of Florida’s economy invested in agriculture, purchasing conservation rights from farmers may provide one good option. Land, especially little-used farmland, could be leased, not purchased, to fulfill Amendment One’s requirements, reducing the developmental impact on land while allowing farmland to remain in private hands.

What Florida really needs to do is maintain the millions of acres of conservation lands already in existence. “Buying up land we cannot care for that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species is not a legacy I am interested in leaving,” Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said.

The right way to move forward is to recognize that water conservation is central to overall conservation. The Florida Legislature should ensure that there is adequate water for all existing and future uses by growing the water supply available for use by the environment, people, and businesses. Completing existing water supply projects should come first. “Water farming” and alternative projects should be used to recharge Florida’s aquifers. More effective rainfall capture is essential, along with solutions to water-quality problems.

Let’s spend the Amendment One money wisely, not use it to grow government and increase future maintenance costs.