Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ray Judah: Why the 2016 Water Bill represents an historic low tide for Florida voters ...

Gimleteye: The following was printed recently in a Fort Myers area newspaper. The legislator most responsible for carrying Big Sugar's agenda in Tallahassee, Representative Matt Caldwell, is a disaster for Florida.

A recent rebuttal by Brewster Bevis to my earlier commentary "Taxpayers continue to pick up the clean-up tab" concerning the 2016 Water bill signed into law by Gov. Scott, is fraught with self serving interest and does not even pass the straight face test.

To begin with, Mr. Bevis is the Chairman of the Florida H2O Coalition. The name of the organization sounds credible, except that the coalition is associated with the politically powerful Associated Industries of Florida. Representing businesses that continue to pollute and overdraw from our declining aquifers, Associated Industries of Florida and their affiliate Florida H2O Coalition have opposed recent law suits claiming the legislature misappropriated over $300 million of Amendment 1 funds to uses not allowable for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund ( i.e. purchase of state vehicles, salaries and benefits for employees of state regulatory agencies and insurance coverage). Over 75% of voters approved Amendment 1 to purchase and manage conservation lands, but the state legislature raided the funds to balance the budget in violation of the public trust.

Contrary to Mr. Brewster assertion that my "time would be better spent reading the new law" (SB 552 and HB 7005), I have thoroughly reviewed this horrendous piece of legislation and offer the following specifics:

The diminishment of Water Management District (WMD) autonomy in water use and planning decisions to appropriately consider Consumptive Use Permit applications and conditions.

WMD's stripped of their authority to modify permitted allocations under consumptive water use permits to avoid water reservation legal challenges and flexibility to meet the end users actual water withdraw levels and reallocate water surplus for critical environmental releases to restore springs, rivers and estuaries.

The failure to establish water conservation as a priority. Given the uncertainty of seasonal fluctuations and increasing use of ground and surface water due to anticipated population growth, water conservation is a more cost effective and sustainable alternative to developing new water supplies.

The replacement of the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards to address potential pollutant loading of freshwater riparian systems and coastal estuaries with the sole reliance on ineffective Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) which will lead to a reactive, ineffective and costly approach to management of the state's water resources. BMAP's only go into effect after water bodies are severely polluted, with the costs paid by taxpayers, instead of those responsible for the pollution. It was imperative that the Works of the District be retained in the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program to ensure compliance with target pollution levels and restore the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee watersheds, but was weakened to accommodate agriculture.

The Water bill delays Lake Okeechobee clean up by eliminating a January 2015 deadline -which the state didn’t meet - for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline. More than 400 tons of phosphorus enter the lake each year and the state was supposed to reduce it to 105 tons.

No deadlines for setting Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for nutrients even though nitrogen and phosphorous are the most destructive pollutants throughout the state. Delayed targets for achieving Minimum Flows & Minimum Levels (MFMLs) and TMDLs (20 to 32 years) allow the ongoing degradation of Florida’s waters to continue, making restoration more difficult and costly for future generations.

Finally, numerous local governments have implemented effective fertilizer ordinances to prevent nutrient loading of waterways. The Water bill's reference to less stringent state sanctioned urban fertilizer regulation standards could severely diminish the ability of local government to adequately address sources of pollution-laden stormwater runoff.

The Water bill originated out of the office of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and sponsored by Representative Matt Caldwell resulting in providing safe harbor to the agriculture industry, including Big Sugar, from being held accountable in helping to restore our impaired lakes, streams, rivers, coastal estuaries and Everglades.

Ray Judah
Former Lee County Commissioner

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