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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
April marks the final month of the 2021 Florida Legislative Session, and we are officially at the halfway mark. Changes to Big Cypress Basin management and farming laws spark concern, while water bills march through key committees. In a major move towards Everglades restoration, we celebrate the removal of the Tamiami Roadbed.
Kentucky Warbler. Photo: Mark Gordon/Audubon Photography Awards.
Big Cypress Basin Management Changes
Sen. Rodrigues (R-Estero) introduced the Big Cypress Basin Bill, SB 406, while the House companion, HB 209, was filed by Rep. Botana (R-Bonita Springs). The bill revises the membership of the Big Cypress Basin governing board; requires the South Florida Water Management District to revise the boundaries of the Big Cypress Basin; and requires the South Florida Water Management District to redirect distribution of basin ad valorem taxes collected within the Big Cypress Basin to be used only for flood control projects and maintenance within the counties in which they were collected.

The bill will reduce ad valorem collections available to the District and narrows the statutory authorized usage of ad valorem funds. This bill has the effect of cutting $8.9 million in annual recurring ad valorem funding necessary for current and future operation and maintenance of the Central & Southern Florida (C&SF) Project flood control system; operation and maintenance of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) features, Northern Everglades features, Restoration Strategies features; and administration of the Big Cypress Basin.

While the bills have been working their way through committees, South Florida Water Management District governing board members as well as Collier County Commissioners have expressed concern that the proposed change may cause challenges with Everglades funding because south Lee County district tax dollars now go to the district at-large, not the Big Cypress Basin.

Also concerning is that this sets a precedent that would lead to other areas that seek a specialty-taxing district. Everglades restoration projects have far-reaching benefits, rehydrating historic wetlands, reducing damaging impacts to our coastal estuaries and reducing the effects of climate change. The fiscal analysis on the effects of the bill raises questions about the impacts of a long-term boundary change. HB 209 passed its last committee of reference, State Affairs on Monday with 19 yeas and 4 nays. SB 406 has two committees remaining.
Kentucky Warbler. Photo: Mark Gordon/Audubon Photography Awards.
White Ibis. Photo: Steve Petersen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Reclaimed Water Bill Moves through Committees
SB 64 by Sen. Albritton (R-Bartow) and HB 263 by Rep. Maggard (R-Dade City) require domestic wastewater utilities to submit a plan to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) by November 2021 for eliminating non-beneficial surface water discharges (e.g., treated effluent, reclaimed water, or reuse water) within a five-year time frame. 

The bills authorize DEP to establish a potable reuse technical advisory committee and provide that potable reuse projects are eligible for alternative water supply funding. SB 64 requires local governments to offer density bonuses to developers to offset the developers’ capital costs of purchasing and installing residential graywater technologies in proposed or existing developments containing at least 25 residential dwellings. These bills set the initial stages for specifying potable reuse as an alternative water supply. Currently, Florida law allows reclaimed water – which is treated wastewater – to be used for irrigating golf courses and parks and residential yards. As the state’s population grows, water supply is a focus for local governments because of anticipated demands on water resources.

HB 263 passed unanimously this week in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriation Subcommittee and is now in State Affairs. SB 64 raced through its committees of reference and is now in Messages.
White Ibis. Photo: Steve Petersen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Terns, Gulls, and Black Skimmers. Photo: Rober Shupak/Audubon Photography Awards.
Blue-Green Algae Task Force Recommendations Bill
SB 1522 by Sen. Stewart (D-Orlando) and HB 1225 by Rep. Goff-Marcil (D-Maitland) aims to strengthen Florida’s water quality protections beyond the provisions of last year’s Clean Waterways Act.

The bill offers us a chance to further strengthen protections for all Florida waters and continue to implement the scientifically sound recommendations made by the Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

The bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to implement a stormwater inspection and monitoring program by January 2022 to identify improperly functioning or failing systems. Further, it require owners of on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems to have the system inspected once every five years beginning July 2024 and directs the Department to adopt rules to administer and enforce the inspection program.

Under the new legislation, basin management action plans must describe potential increases in pollutant loading due to population growth and agricultural growth and provide a comprehensive analysis of options to mitigate increases in pollutant loading.

SB 1522 passed Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Monday with 5 yeas and 0 nays. SB 1522 was amended during this committee hearing, but the remaining provisions still include some of the recommendations made by Governor DeSantis’ Task Force. HB 1225 is still in its first committee of reference.
Terns, Gulls, and Black Skimmers. Photo: Rober Shupak/Audubon Photography Awards.
Eastern Meadowlark. Photo: Sheri Douse/Audubon Photography Awards.
Farming Bill Changes May be Too Broad
SB 88 by Sen. Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) and HB 1601 by Rep. Williamson (R- Pace) would significantly expand immunity from lawsuits for agricultural operators from damages claimed by their neighbors.

These bills revise the Right to Farm Act to incorporate agritourism activities within the scope of the Act. The Right to Farm Act specifies that no farm operation that has been in operation for one year or more and that was not a nuisance at the time of its establishment should be a public or private nuisance if the farm operation conforms to generally accepted agricultural and management practices.

In addition, the bills provide limitations on liability from nuisance, trespass, or tort actions that may be filed relating to farming or agritourism activities. A farm may not be held liable for operations alleged to cause harm outside of the farm unless the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the claim arises out of conduct that does not comply with state and federal environmental laws, regulations, or best management practices.

This broad brushstroke approach is worrisome as it reduces citizens’ and local governments’ ability to take actions in the face of water quality and other environmental concerns. Several moderating amendments filed by Rep. Hardy did not pass in Committee. HB 1601 passed the Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee this week with 14 yeas and 4 nays.
Eastern Meadowlark. Photo: Sheri Douse/Audubon Photography Awards.
Northern Everglades Policy Analyst Doug Gaston with Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, governing board member of the South Florida Water Management District.
Tamiami Roadbed Removal Celebrated
Everglades restoration marked major progress this week. The South Florida Water Management District hosted a celebration of the Tamiami Trail roadbed removal project on March 30. The Governing Board of the district was joined by Governor DeSantis, agency and elected officials, and the new Chief Science Officer, Mark Rains.

The Tamiami Trail roadbed has for decades acted as a dam blocking water from moving south into Everglades National Park and on to Florida Bay, starving the ecosystem of much needed water and harming wading bird and wildlife habitat while contributing to flooding in the Central Everglades north of the trail. 

Removal of the six mile portion of the roadbed is expected to be completed in January 2022 and will help restore the natural sheet flow of water under the recently constructed Tamiami Trail bridges and into Northeast Shark River Slough. 

The roadbed removal project is a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and one of twenty-nine projects accelerated for completion in response to the Governor’s 2019 Executive Order “Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment.”  Audubon has been an ardent advocate for CERP and the roadbed removal project and looks forward to celebrating more progress towards restoring America’s Everglades.
Northern Everglades Policy Analyst Doug Gaston with Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, governing board member of the South Florida Water Management District.
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