Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This week marked the opening salvo of the 2021 Florida Legislative Session. Among other priorities, Audubon is tracking water and climate resiliency bills this week, as well as changes to energy preemption laws. At the federal level, Senator Marco Rubio and 27 members of the Florida delegation signed on to a letter urging President Biden to fund Everglades restoration.
Photo: Pixabay
Florida Delegation Lobbies Biden Administration for Everglades Restoration Funding
The economic and ecological prosperity of Florida depends upon a healthy and restored Everglades. As a result, Everglades restoration has always been a bipartisan priority for Florida’s congressional delegation. 

Just this week all 27 Florida members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with Senator Marco Rubio, signed a letter to President Biden supporting Florida’s $725 million request for federal Everglades Restoration funding in fiscal year 2022. This increased request reflects the accelerated pace of restoration work and the priority placed on this work by our Governor and state leadership.


Florida’s nature-based recreational opportunities attracted 131 million visitors in 2019 alone, bringing close to $100 billion to the state’s economy.  The harmful algal blooms of 2018, when the discharge of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers caused algae blooms and fed red tide, resulted in tens of millions of dollars in economic losses.

In Florida, our economy is our environment, and our Congressional delegation is speaking with one voice: Florida’s future prosperity depends on protecting and restoring the River of Grass.
Photo: Pixabay.
Great Blue Heron and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Photo: Anthony Clements/Audubon Photography Awards.
Two Water Bills Pass Committee Hurdles
This week in the Florida Legislature, HB 263 (SB 64), Reclaimed Water, sponsored by Rep. Randy Maggard  (R-Dade City), passed the Environmental, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee 17-0.  The bill requires utilities to eliminate non-beneficial surface water discharges within five years, apply for a permit for new or expanded surface water discharges, and incentivizes the development of reuse projects.  An amendment added to the bill this week makes it more difficult for utilities or companies to claim a hardship exemption if unable to meet the deadline. Water is getting scarce, and with huge projected population growth we should be looking for ways to conserve water, to use less water, and to reuse water so it is not wasted.

Senate Bill 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur (R- Sanford) passed the Senate Rules Committee with a vote of 14-2, its final committee stop before heading to the Senate floor. SB 88 attempts to strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm Act with increasing protections against nuisance complaints.

As Florida’s population has grown and more development moves to rural areas of the state, so too have nuisance complaints against farming activities. The bill prevents tort lawsuits from being filed against normal farming activities, including agritourism. The bill requires the plaintiff to provide clear and convincing evidence that farming activity does not comply with state and federal environmental laws, regulations, or best management practices.

While many of these concerns merit being addressed, Audubon is concerned about the possible over-reach that will limit legal recourse should water or other environmental concerns arise. On Tuesday, Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Pace) filed the House companion HB 1601.
Great Blue Heron and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Photo: Anthony Clements/Audubon Photography Awards.
Purple Gallinule. Photo: Dennis Derby/Audubon Photography Awards.
Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Hears Water and M-CORES Issues
Aquifer Storage and Recovery

On Monday, at the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, the focus was on presentations by David Pyne and Mark McNeal on Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), as well as by Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), on the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Science Plan.

David Pyne, president of ASR Systems in Gainesville and a member of the Florida Engineering Society, said ASR is “storing water at times when water is available and recovering the water when it is needed.” ASR does not solve water management challenges because storage and attenuation features must be able to store or move large amounts of water very quickly to be effective. The inflow rate per ASR is simply too slow 

The take home message: ASR wells are a tool in the tool-box but should not be a substitute for dispersed storage projects.

Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project


Senator Brodeur (R-Sanford) presented SB 94, which advances the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) and requires the SFWMD, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to expedite implementation of the project. The LOWRP – part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan – provides water storage north of Lake Okeechobee. The LOWRP is a controversial project, and while its intended goal of water treatment and storage north of the lake is a critical need, the project falls short of what is needed to protect the lake and reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries east and west. 

The SFWMD estimates we need about 900,000 acre-feet of storage north of Lake O to smooth out the high water events. However, on a positive note, the bill allows for moving forward with an amended LOWRP should the Army Corps choose to update the project.  The bill passed the committee with a unanimous vote.

M-CORES


SB 100 (Sen. Harrell, R-Stuart) passed (5 Yeas and 3 Nays) the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, March 3. The bill repeals M-CORES legislation and dramatically pares back the environmentally disastrous proposal to build 330 miles of new turnpikes through Florida's most rural areas. Instead, it proposes completing the Suncoast Parkway to US 19 in Citrus County, then relying on gradual improvements to US 19 to link to Interstate 10 in North Florida. The bill also authorizes a new study of an extension of the Florida Turnpike from Wildwood to a yet-to-be determined destination, and requires US 19 to connect to I-10 in Madison County, which would result in about 30 miles of road impacts in very rural areas.

Audubon advocates for legislative direction that the strong protections the Task Forces required for conservation lands, wildlife, rural lands be retained (and should apply to any future proposals for these roads). Such action would parallel 2004, when the Legislature passed the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act and specifically referenced the Task Force reports, enshrining those protections in statute.
Purple Gallinule. Photo: Dennis Derby/Audubon Photography Awards.
Tampa Bay. Photo: Pixabay.
Two Coastal Resiliency Bills Highlight New Climate Change Concerns
The House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee filed two proposed committee bills (PCBs): EAF1, "Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience," and EAF2, "Resilient Florida Trust Fund," to be championed by Representatives Ray Rodriguez (R-Fort Myers) and Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables).

These bills are part of House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ (R-Clearwater) priority legislation directed at impacts to coastal areas from rising sea levels. EAF1 provides a grant program to local governments to conduct vulnerability assessments related to coastal impacts, requires a state-wide sea level rise assessment and vulnerability study, and requires an annual Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. EAF1 also establishes the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

EAF2 would formally establish the Resilient Florida Trust Fund to provide support for the grant program and resilience plan reports. The Trust Fund would begin with $25 million if approved, and increase to $100 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2022-2023.

Rep. Sprowls states that Florida is home to one million residential properties at substantial risk of flooding, and hosts seven of the 10 cities with the largest property loss at risk of flooding. These at-risk properties are expected to have collected loss of nearly $8 billion this year.

Statewide leadership on addressing the effects of climate change cannot come soon enough with a focus on green and hybrid infrastructure.

Both bills will be discussed during the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee meeting on Monday.
Tampa Bay. Photo: Pixabay.
Great Egret. Photo: Trish O'Keefe/Audubon Photography Awards.
Energy Preemption Bill Scope is Narrowed but May Still Have Unintended Consequences

HB 839, "State Preemption of Energy Infrastructure Regulation," by Representative Fabricio (R-Hialeah) was temporarily postponed according to House Rules after the sponsor filed a strike-all amendment to limit the scope of the preemption. This bill would prohibit cities and counties from regulating any infrastructure that supports production, storage, importation, and distribution of any energy resource relating to transportation, including gas stations. As written, the bill may force local governments to become advocates and litigants in state permitting processes rather than local communities having the ability to be more protective than the state.

In some places, local rules being more protective than the state are warranted by environmental vulnerabilities. For example, some local governments in Central Florida have special land use and regulatory requirements to protect the Wekiva River system and its associated springs. These were adopted as plan amendments under a requirement in the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act. The amendment filed on Tuesday narrows the scope of the bill to the regulation of transportation energy infrastructure. However, we still have concerns about unintended consequences, including diminishing environmental protections such as those protecting the Wekiva.

Audubon continues to work with the bill sponsor to move the bill towards a more favorable position.
Great Egret. Photo: Trish O'Keefe/Audubon Photography Awards.
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