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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This was the fifth committee week leading up to the 2024 Florida Legislative Session. House and Senate committees met to hear updates from state agencies as well as the Governor’s budget recommendations. Next week will be the last committee week until the Legislative Session begins on January 9, 2024.
Flock of birds in flight in front of the moon
Governor DeSantis' Budget Proposal Released
This week, Governor Ron DeSantis announced his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2024–2025 which totals $114.4 billion, approximately $4.6 billion less than the current year budget, even with $16.3 billion in reserves. The Governor’s Budget recommends $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality with $745 million for Everglades restoration efforts, $157 million to brace against rising sea levels and to protect coral reefs, and $100 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program. The Governor also recommended $100 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, a program of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that employs conservation easements to protect natural resources and agricultural production. Scroll down to see highlights from the budget. 
American White Pelicans. Photo: Joseph Hamner/Audubon Photography Awards
A chart showing budget details.
An oystercatcher on an oyster reef.
House Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency and Recovery
On Monday, the House Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency and Recovery (Chair Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte) heard testimony from five sectors of agriculture affected by Hurricane Idalia, which hit the Florida Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm causing widespread damage. The sectors represented included the Florida Agriculture Coalition, aquaculture, beef cattle, dairy farmers, and the timber industry. Roughly 3.3 million acres of agriculture were impacted by the storm with an estimated loss of $370 million.

Of note, there was an estimated $34 million loss to aquaculture. Florida is second in the nation in clam production and clam leases near Cedar Key suffered lost clam beds from debris, silt, and direct storm damage. The aquaculture industry requested a $3 million fund ($5,000 per operator) to help tide them over and consideration of creating an “aquaculture disaster relief fund.” This same region’s oyster reefs are critical breeding and wintering habitat for a substantial portion of the country’s American Oystercatchers, a state-threatened species in Florida.

It has been difficult to fully estimate the damage to the cattle and dairy industries. Idalia impacted 22 dairies, almost half the total in the state. Impacts included significant structural damage to barns, sheds, fences, and equipment.
American Oystercatcher. Photo: Walker Golder/Audubon
Birds on a beach.
Improving Florida's Resilience to Flooding
The House Agriculture, Conservation, and Resilience Subcommittee (Chair Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey) met on Dec. 5 to hear two presentations on resilience. Dr. Tom Frazer, executive director of the Florida Flood Hub, presented on the Hub's Sea Level Rise (SLR) and Rainfall Working Groups' data collection and forecasting for climate change impacts from flooding due to SLR and precipitation. He emphasized the importance of good science in making adaptation plans for coming impacts in light of increased rainfall potential we are already seeing in Florida, including the recent 25-inch rainfall event in Fort Lauderdale in April and Hurricane Ian's huge storm surge destruction in Southwest Florida.

Also, Melissa Roberts, Executive Director of the American Flood Coalition, presented information on the strong resilience efforts being made with funding from the Legislature, together with the guidance of the state’s Chief Resilience Officer and the Chief Science Office to support statewide resiliency coalitions and local governments. Many more comprehensive efforts are needed to address increasing risks that threaten Florida's economy and sustainability.
Red Knots. Photo: Elizabeth Brensinger/Audubon Photography Awards
Birds in a marsh at sunrise.
Updated Stormwater Rule
The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources (Chair Sen. Anna Maria Rodrguez, R- Doral) heard a timely presentation by Deputy Secretary Jessica Kramer of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the updated stormwater rule adopted in May 2023. This rule now must be ratified by the Legislature. Harmful algal blooms, like red tide, are fueled by nitrogen and phosphorus that pollute our waters, originating from stormwater, septic tanks, wastewater, fertilizer, and agriculture. Florida’s existing stormwater rules are more than forty years old and are simply not protective enough. The new rule, while more protective, also provides flexibility in stormwater infrastructure choices looking towards innovations like Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development options to meet permit requirements.
American White Pelicans and a Great Blue Heron. Photo: Pamela Hennet/Audubon Photography Awards
An aerial view of a farm with a windmill
Diversifying Florida's Energy Sources
On Wednesday, the House Energy, Communications & Cybersecurity Subcommittee (Chair Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral) held discussions focusing on diversifying Florida's energy sources, particularly alternative fuels such as renewable natural gas (RNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). RNG created from farm waste offers a renewable and locally sourced energy option. Florida currently ranks 13th in potential RNG production, with the potential to develop various projects to enhance this fuel source.
 
A Florida farm. Photo: Pixabay
Ducks and an alligator on a foggy morning.
PFAS and Drinking Water
The House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee (Chair Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Johns) heard presentations this week on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. While these substances are no longer manufactured in the United States, they have been used extensively since the 1940s in a variety of products such as cookware, cosmetics, waterproof clothing, and footwear. State and federal efforts are underway to investigate and understand PFAS and the potential risks to our ecology and human health.

Dr. Christopher Teaf of Florida State University spoke to lawmakers Thursday, identifying the dangers of PFAS as they are not successfully removed through current wastewater treatment and disposal practices. Deputy Secretary Jessica Kramer of DEP provided an update on the state’s efforts to study and clean up PFAS, with a focus on drinking water protections.
 
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and an American alligator in the Western Everglades. Photo: David Korte
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