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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
During the second week of the 2022 Florida Legislative Session, Audubon worked with elected officials to blunt harmful fertilizer and seagrass bills, while celebrating unprecedented funding for Everglades restoration from the federal government. Read more below!
Florida bay, the water reflecting the blue sky and clouds. Photo: Kelly Cox/Audubon Florida.
An Unprecedented Investment in Everglades Restoration and a Giant Step Forward in Climate Resiliency
The White House announced the largest ever investment of federal funds for Everglades restoration on January 19, 2022. Nearly $1.1 billion will be provided to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program to support projects this year. This funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that was signed into law in November 2021 and represents a sweeping investment in the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project – America’s Everglades.

“We are elated to see this level of investment in Everglades restoration,” says Audubon Florida’s Director of Everglades Policy, Kelly Cox. “It is clear that restoring this ecosystem remains a bipartisan priority and this funding will expedite many impactful projects this year.”

Audubon Florida, our partners, and Florida’s Congressional delegation have been advocating for increased funding for Everglades restoration to support ongoing projects throughout the Greater Everglades ecosystem. The funding allocated to the U.S. Army Corps will allow already planned projects under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to be expedited, hastening the completion of Everglades Restoration. These projects, like the Indian River Lagoon C23/24 Reservoir, the Biscayne Bay and Southern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Project, and the Western Everglades Restoration Project, will improve the hydrology of the region, safeguard drinking water supplies for South Florida, improve water quality, and increase the region’s resilience.

“This investment in Everglades restoration is unparalleled,” says Cox. “We are thrilled to see this funding coming through and look forward to the many ecological returns it will provide for the Everglades ecosystem.”

Audubon continues to provide critical science and leads state and national advocacy to restore balanced water and wildlife to the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.
Florida Bay. Photo: Kelly Cox/Audubon Florida.
Oranges hanging from a green tree.
Harmful Fertilizer Bill Advances Again
The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 advanced SB 1000 (Sen. Albritton, R-Wauchula) that would allow producers to apply fertilizer based on recommendation of certified crop advisors, only focusing on yield with little regard for downstream effects on water quality. The bill authorizes “rate tailoring,” which allows crop advisors to work directly with farms to develop site specific nutrient application rates and circumvent recommendations in the Department of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices Manuals.

Florida’s citrus is in trouble and the bill appears to be an effort to solve the citrus industry’s concerns. Unfortunately, SB 1000 opens the flood gates for all commodities to not follow BMP recommended fertilization application rates, whether they are experiencing problems or not.

Audubon Florida testified at the meeting to suggest narrowing the scope of the bill to allow rate tailoring for the citrus crop alone. Citrus lends itself to a more controlled application of fertilizer given the soils it grows in when compared to other commodities where, for example, biosolids could be applied. This bill as written could allow for application of higher rates of biosolids fertilizer, which have known consequences to water quality and wetlands.

The bill passed its second committee of reference with 1 nay and 6 yeas and is now referred to Senate Rules - its third and last committee stop. The House companion, HB 1291, filed by Rep. McClure (R-Dover), has not been placed on an agenda as of this date.
American White Pelican swimming across calm water. Photo: Jim Chagares/Audubon Photography Awards.
Harmful Seagrass Bill Advances Over Concerns of Conservation Community
SB 198, Water Resources Management (Sen. A. Rodriguez, R- Doral), would for the first time allow permits to destroy seagrass in state waters if those seagrasses were replaced in state waters elsewhere. The problem?

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 SB 198 would make the destruction of seagrass permittable in Florida to a new, deleterious extent – all with little guarantee of lasting replacement through mitigation banks. It is imprudent to plant seagrass without fixing the underlying problems that are affecting seagrass meadows across the state, including: impaired water quality, reduced freshwater flows, turbidity, and prop scarring.

An additional danger in this legislation is that it might – again 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.

The value of added conservation lands could be lost should the bills in their current forms pass, allowing mitigation banks on state submerged lands already protected from development by public ownership.

SB 198 was approved by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 3 yeas, 2 nays on January 18, 2022. Its House companion, filed by Rep. Sirois (R-Merritt Island), passed its first committee of reference on December 6, 2021, and is now referenced to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Audubon Florida has offered suggestions to the House sponsor to add guardrails to the bill to limit the potential harm. Our suggestions include limiting the scope of projects allowed for mitigation on submerged sovereign lands to be those that meet the public interest; updating the UMAM tool to make it applicable to assess loss and mitigation needs from seagrass loss; exclude motorboat traffic from mitigation areas to prevent harm; and be prescriptive with respect to all of the factors that need to be considered to develop and protective rule.
American White Pelican. Photo: Jim Chagares/Audubon Photography Awards.
Three Black Skimmers in flight with water in the background. Photo: Trudy Walden.
Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan Update
At the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on January 19, 2021, Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock presented an update on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. The program was created last year to respond to the needs of inland and coastal communities to flooding and sea level rise and severe storm events.

Funding for the program is allocated as follows: $20 million in state funding for planning grants; $2 million in state funding for regional resilience entities; and $500 million in federal funding for the Resilient Florida Grant Program.

The planning grants funds are to assist local governments in completing their vulnerability assessments to identify critical assets that may be affected by flooding impacts based off sea level rise projection curves. This information will assist the state as it completes its statewide assessment, which is intended to form the cornerstone for future resilience project development.

Project types that qualify for the federal funding pot include transportation assets and evacuation routes, wastewater, stormwater and other utility infrastructure, critical community and emergency infrastructure, and protection of natural, cultural, and historical resources. Applications required a 50% match from the applicant unless it was from a financially disadvantaged community. DEP set up a portal to solicit projects for review. A tiered review process was created in SB 1954 and codified in Section 380.093, F.S.

Missing from the presentation were details on funding being provided to regional resilience entities. The State’s Resilience Plan covers a three-year rolling period, with new projects being added as others are completed. This year, a total of 76 projects were selected, totaling $270 million that will be spent over the next three years.

DEP has the opportunity to take a leadership role as this process continues to work with local governments and regional entities to develop more comprehensive plans that will prepare the state to become more resilient. Sea level rise and storm surges know no boundaries.
Black Skimmers. Photo: Trudy Walden.
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