Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The Interim Legislative Committee weeks have officially wrapped up for 2021! As we turn our attention to the 2022 session, we are keeping a close eye on troubling seagrass mitigation and net metering bills that will not only decrease Florida’s resiliency in the face of climate change, but stall the growth of solar energy that is fueling growth in our economy. Thank you for staying with us throughout this committee week schedule – we will need your voice in 2022!
Brown Pelican. Photo: John Wolaver.
Embattled Seagrass Mitigation Bill Passes House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee
The House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee on Wednesday heard two bills filed by Rep. Sirois (R-Merritt Island):

1) HB 323 - From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,  further strengthens rules for the management of derelict vessels.

2) HB 349 - Water Resources Management.

HB 349 and its Senate companion SB 198 (Sen. Bradley, R-Orange Park) provide authorization for the first time for mitigation banks by private entities to be established on State Sovereign Submerged Lands.

This legislation would enable the destruction of healthy seagrass resources in exchange for planting seagrass in places where its likelihood of survival is low without larger interventions such as water quality improvements or pole and troll mandates.

Mitigation is already an accepted practice with uplands and freshwater wetlands, where development in one location on private lands is used to support the protection of other private lands from development. Further restoring those lands is a supplemental benefit.

This bill’s seagrass mitigation proposal, however, would allow publicly-owned seagrass resources to be harmed without adding additional seagrass areas to public ownership elsewhere.

Further, the bill’s proposal to restore seagrass on these public lands is admirable, but implementation would be problematic and unlikely to replace the ecological value of what applicants would be permitted to destroy.  However, the bills are not limited to that kind of mitigation.

Seagrass restoration efforts in Florida have a history of being both expensive and complex, with few success stories. A mitigation program like one described in HB 349 would make the destruction of seagrass permit-able in Florida to an extent that has not been allowable previously – all with little guarantee of lasting replacement through mitigation banks. It is an exercise in futility to plant seagrass without fixing the underlying problems that are affecting seagrass meadows across the state, which include impaired water quality, reduced freshwater flows, turbidity, and prop scarring.

An additional danger in this legislation? It might – for the first time –  open up a mechanism for healthy, undisturbed seagrass areas to be impacted by new channels and boat basins that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts have routinely denied permits for over the last 30 years.

HB 349 was approved by the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee; by a vote of 13 Yeas, 4 Nays on December 1st. There was much discussion and several members expressed concerns about the bill: Rep. Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) asked whether this was the right time for the state to open up mitigation on state owned lands when there’s been large scale loss of seagrass across the state. Rep. Hardy (D-West Palm Beach) reiterated that the idea behind mitigation is “no net loss” so mitigation should not be allowed on lands already placed into conservation. Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard) –  whose district also is located on the Indian River estuary – said “this bill provides the certainty of destruction and only the possibility of [restoration] success.” He further argued that the legislation was fraught with problems, and its future is uncertain at best.

Audubon testified raising numerous concerns about the bill. Stay tuned – we may need you to contact your elected officials in 2022!
Brown Pelican. Photo: John Wolaver.
Solar panels with a sky in the background.
Net Metering Legislation Could Pour Cold Water on Florida's Solar Economy
Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-Orange Park) has filed SB 1024, “Net Metering,” to significantly amend the state’s net metering program.

Florida’s net metering program was established in 2008, and allows residential and commercial customers to sell their excess generation back to the utility at the full retail electrical rate on their monthly bill. The bill could change the reimbursement from a retail to wholesale rate and grandfather existing customers for only 10 years. Additionally, the bill basically directs the Public Service Commission (PSC) in a very prescriptive manner on what they need to consider when reviewing the issue.

Installing rooftop solar is a substantial expense, and for those who take it on, a favorable rate for the energy they sell back to the grid is part of the calculation of whether they can afford to make the switch to solar. By lowering this rate to wholesale, it will take individuals longer to recover their costs – making it more expensive for homeowners to go solar. It is not in the public interest to slow Florida’s transition to renewable generation.

Last year, in advance of the PSC holding a workshop on net metering, thousands of people sent emails urging commissioners not to take any action that would affect the growth of rooftop solar.

SB 1024 would change the existing net metering structure from one that promotes the development of renewable energy resources in this state, to delivering a huge blow to a growing solar industry that currently employs thousands of people throughout the state.

The House companion HB 741 was filed by Rep. McClure (R-Dover).
Double-crested Cormorants and seabirds perched on wooden pilings with a white background. Photo: Constance Mier/Audubon Photography Awards.
Water and Pollution Legislation Heard in Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee met on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 to hear the first slate of bills presented to this committee for Session 2022. Chair Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) presented several bills during the committee meeting all relating to water quality improvements.

SB 608 (HB 303, Truenow (R-Tavares)) would allow county governments to access sanitary sewer laterals for inspection and repairs of compromised sewer lines. The bill also allows for the use of state and federal funds set aside for environmental preservation or water quality protection towards these repairs. Sen. Brodeur said this bill smooths the way for county governments that are already doing good work. Nutrient pollution from poorly maintained sewer lines affects water quality, and regular inspection programs are good practice.

SB 0834, “Long-term Cleanup of Harmful Algal Blooms,” also filed by Sen. Brodeur, directs the Department of Environmental Protection to procure innovative technologies that will physically remove harmful algal blooms, toxins, algae, and nutrients from water bodies in the state. Preference will be given to scalable projects. Rep. Truenow filed the House companion HB 421.

SB 608 attempts to remedy delays that may occur during septic inspection scheduling by expanding the list of professionals that may perform such inspections. The bill outlines the types of qualified professionals that may be hired to complete septic inspections. The House companion HB 309 was filed by Reps. Fetterholf (R-Deland) and Giallombardo (R-Cape Coral).

SB 7012, “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFOS),” creates a task force of affected stakeholders who are directly impacted by this chemical to provide recommendations about a wide variety of issues related to PFOS so the State of Florida can take action to mitigate problems. Sen. Brodeur called this “our generation’s forever chemical;” therefore it is critical that we take action to protect our citizens and our environment.

All four bills passed unanimously in committee.
Double-crested Cormorants and seabirds. Photo: Constance Mier/Audubon Photography Awards.
Great Egret. Photo: Clyde Comstock/Audubon Photography Awards.
Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project Update Does Not Quell Water Storage Concerns
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee met on December 1, 2021. The South Florida Water Management District’s Executive Director Drew Bartlett provided an update on the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP).

His presentation provided an overview of LOWRP, which is a part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Director Bartlett spoke specifically about the Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells which are a component of the project. 55 of these wells will be built within the project footprint by the time the project is completed. The South Florida Water Management District intends that the wells to be used for increased underground water storage to improve water levels of Lake Okeechobee, ensure adequate water supply, and improve water distribution to the coastal estuaries. This restoration project also includes plans to restore 5,900 acres of wetlands along the Kissimmee River floodplain. On November 1, the District submitted a progress report on the project to the Florida Legislature, which includes an updated time frame and cost summary. Construction for the wells is scheduled for completion by 2025.

While we note that ASR wells have a role to play in Everglades restoration, Audubon cautions that we need more storage north of the lake and that the LOWRP in its current form does not meet our storage goals.
Great Egret. Photo: Clyde Comstock/Audubon Photography Awards.
Pipes in the foreground with water spilling upwards in the background, with a marsh beyond.
12,000-acre Everglades Restoration Project Complete
This fall, the biggest Everglades restoration project to date came online, creating more than 6,000 acres over new wetlands across a 12,000-acre footprint. On November 19, 2021, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District celebrated the completion of the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA). A component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s (CERP) Indian River Lagoon South project, the C-44 Reservoir and STA provides more than 60,000-acre feet, or 19.7 billion gallons, of new water storage to the region. This additional storage capacity will allow for water treatment of basin runoff in the St. Lucie estuary to improve water quality and revitalize Indian River Lagoon habitat.

Click here to read more.
Photo: Kelly Cox.
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