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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Legislative committees met this week to discuss water quality, land acquisition, storm preparedness, and more. Audubon continues to follow agency and stakeholder updates to ensure funding is being spent appropriately and transparently to create a more resilient future for wildlife, special places, and Florida communities.

In South Florida, Audubon attended and gave remarks at two events highlighting major steps forward in Everglades restoration, and learned some great news: The Department of Economic Opportunity dealt a setback to Miami-Dade County today over its proposal to move the Urban Development Boundary which would harm Everglades restoration. Audubon identified a procedural error in the county's submittal that enabled DEO to send it back to the starting line.
water droplets against a white background
Florida Saves More Water
Florida now requires utilities to make plans to use reclaimed wastewater in an effort to meet the Sunshine State’s current and future water needs. Of the existing 162 domestic wastewater facilities’ plans, 129 are either fully or conditionally approved. Since 2021, 11 million gallons a day have been saved, as they are no longer discharged to surface waters.


Members of the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee (Chair, Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka)) received updates from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on the implementation of a 2021 law, SB 64, requiring utilities to develop plans for the beneficial use of reclaimed wastewater while eliminating surface water discharges by 2023 in an effort to conserve water and reduce waste. This initiative is a critical component of the plan to meet the state’s existing and future water needs.


Amanda Rice, Deputy Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, shared details of the agency’s work on water conservation and the reuse of treated wastewater. Currently, 16% of the water consumed by the district is reclaimed; their goal is to use 75% reclaimed water by 2040.

Why It Matters

It is important to note that 67% of our state lies within water resource concern areas. In light of Florida’s extreme growth, water conservation and the beneficial use of reclaimed water are critically important to our future quality of life.
Photo: Pixabay
Silhouette of a Sandhill Crane with a sunset in the background
Land Conservation Moves Ahead
Once again, the House and Senate spent considerable time this week learning about Florida’s land conservation programs. As interest in the Rural and Family Lands Program grows, and as larger sums of funding are allocated to the program ($300 million last year), it is important that accountability and transparency remain part of the prioritization process for parcel selection, as it is for Florida Forever. The Florida Forever Program has been the state’s premier land conservation program, and integral to its success is the sound science and vetting process that is based in rule and statute.

FDACS Committee Updates

At the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee (Chair, James Buchanan (R-Osprey)) as well as in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair, Thad Altman (R-Indialantic)), newly elected Commissioner Wilton Simpson provided an overview of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) iconic Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.


Initiated in 2001, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program has grown as the state’s decision-makers realized the importance of agricultural land in landscape-level conservation. This program buys easements on agricultural land, to protect them for agricultural and conservation use from development pressure.

Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Committee Updates

Melissa Tucker, Director of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Habitat Conservation Program, also spoke about her agency’s land acquisition program. The goal of FWC’s program is to manage conservation lands for hunting, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing while maintaining healthy wildlife populations.

Did You Know?

On average, 1.5% of the annual funds appropriated to Florida Forever are allocated to FWC’s land acquisition program.
Sandhill Crane. Photo: Hannah Stolz/Audubon Photography Awards.
waves wash onto a beach during a hurricane
Is Florida Ready for the Next Storm?

The Senate Select Committee on Resiliency (Chair, Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula)) met on Wednesday for an update on the state’s recovery from the latest hurricanes.

The committee convened to hear from Florida’s major utility companies – Florida Power & Light, Co, Duke Energy, and TECO Energy –  about plans to improve the resilience of their infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. To improve reliability, utilities are hardening infrastructure using steel or concrete and relocated transmission lines underground.

Senate members additionally discussed the need for utility companies to increase their financial reserves that fund their disaster-recovery efforts. Increasing reserve funds might mean changes in rates for customers.

Community Stakeholder Presentations: Babcock Ranch

The House Select Committee on Resiliency, chaired by Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte), met on Thursday to hear several presentations on community preparedness, resiliency, and sustainability.

Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson and Partners, a real estate company that focuses on planning environmentally sound and sustainable communities, described infrastructure efforts at Babcock Ranch. Babcock Ranch - a sustainable community that straddles parts of Charlotte County and Lee County - did not lose power after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Kitson said the community was built in the right place, and in the right way, with hardened infrastructure designed from the beginning with storms in mind. They are focused on maintaining natural flow-ways, protecting existing wetlands and creating new ones, and creating a network of interconnected lakes, all of which use green infrastructure to hold water and prevent or minimize flooding. Babcock Ranch also features a 150-megawatt solar farm with a massive solar array of 700,000 panels. The solar array together with underground transmission lines kept the grid running during the storm.

Beach Erosion

The Committee also heard from Pepper Uchino, President of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, on the value of the state’s beach erosion control program. Florida has the longest coastline in the continental United States—800 miles. These beaches are the single largest driver of our tourism industry. With an anticipated sea level rise of three feet by 2100, our state’s coastal population of 17 million is facing increasing threats from intense storms and storm surges.
A hurricane comes ashore in the Florida Keys.
Blue-winged Teal swimming
Committees Hear Water Quality Program and Legislation Updates
The House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee (Chair Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Johns)) heard updates from FDEP on water issues.

Assessment and Restoration Programs

Updates centered on the agency’s water quality assessment and restoration programs, which include Basin Management Action Plans, Reasonable Assurance Plans, and other alternative restoration plans that provide a myriad of ways that local governments and stakeholders can work with the state to improve their water quality.

Clean Waterways Act (SB 712)

FDEP has been working on improvements to septic and stormwater systems, wastewater infrastructure, as well as Agricultural Best Management Practices regulations. Once rulemaking is completed, the new rules for stormwater and septic tank regulation will be proposed for ratification by the legislature this session.
Blue-winged Teal. Photo: Barbara Cohen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Audubon staff stand holding shovels over a pile of dirt.
Everglades Restoration Sees Banner Week
Two major events this week highlighted momentum in Everglades Restoration. 

On Wednesday, Audubon staff attended the completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project. The earthen dam surrounding Lake Okeechobee, built for flood control in the 1930s, has been in desperate need of repair. Since 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers has worked diligently to rehabilitate the Hoover Dam, building 56.2 miles of cutoff wall, 28 culverts, and added protection to the embankment.

On Thursday, Audubon staff attended and gave remarks at the groundbreaking of a new initiative to remove water blockages in Taylor Slough, especially along Old Ingraham Highway. This joint project between the South Florida Water Management District and Everglades National Park will restore historic water flow and ultimately improve the health of Florida Bay.

Last but certainly not least, on Friday the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) dealt a decisive blow to Miami-Dade County’s plans to sprawl into the Everglades. After a Commission vote last month to move the Urban Development Boundary line for a 383-acre industrial development, Audubon reviewed the process and discovered that the Commission had missed an important detail: their DEO extension had expired. Audubon elevated it to the agency. Yesterday, the DEO agreed – the Commission must start over.

Read the full DEO letter here.

Why It Matters

A healthy Everglades is critical not only for the iconic Florida wildlife that call this region home, but also to our own continued prosperity. A healthy Everglades protects communities from storms, bolsters the economy, and provides drinking water to millions of South Floridians.
Audubon staff members attend the groundbreaking at Everglades National Park.
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