Audubon Florida
The Advocate
In Week 2 of Legislative Session, a biosolids bill is turning heads, with an unintended consequence that it could increase the volume of nutrient pollution in our waterways, fueling harmful algal blooms. Other bills moving this week address sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, water quality improvements, and more.This week also, the South Florida Wading Bird Report for the 2021 nesting season hit the streets: In 2021, the Everglades experienced its second-highest nesting effort for many wading bird species in 80 years. Thanks to extreme rainfall, even Wood Storks shared in these successes — an outlier as they still struggle in most years to raise chicks to fledging, especially in Southwest Florida's over-drained landscape.
Killdeer standing on grass.
Biosolids Bill is a Start but Needs Improvements
Advocates seeking to end the practice of spreading sewage sludge on farm fields have advanced a bill that would unfortunately repackage the problem — in a form that is less regulated and monitored than it is currently. As a result, Audubon is working to improve SB 0880 by Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary), which, while well-meaning, could worsen rather than improve our water quality problems.


Biosolids are the liquid, semisolid, and solid fractions of the treated waste stream from a domestic wastewater treatment facility and are designated into one of three classes: Class AA, Class A, and Class B, based, in part, on the degree of pathogen reduction. A 2007 state law banned Class B biosolids in South Florida, including the Lake Okeechobee and St. Lucie River watersheds.

Subsequently, data from the St. Johns River Water Management District showed that the ban led to an increase in usage to the north, including the St. Johns River watershed. Recognizing this problem, further revisions to the biosolids rule (Chapter 62-640, F.A.C.), became effective June 21, 2021, including a prohibition on the land application of biosolids on soils with a seasonal high water table within six inches of the soil surface or depth of biosolids placement.

As restrictions on land application of Class B have increased, more and more facilities are converting them to Class AA.

A key provision in Sen. Brodeur’s bill would effectively ban the application of Class B biosolids in areas defined as having “impaired waters” (Class B was previously banned only in the Okeechobee, St. Lucie, and Caloosahatchee watersheds by legislation passed in 2007). This provision would have a positive effect in reducing nutrient loading from Class B biosolids into our impaired waterways. While this provision standing alone is a positive advancement, its benefits may be offset by the increase in AA material. 

Another provision in this bill would fund sewage treatment plants with state tax dollars to convert “Class B Biosolids” that are currently applied on farms to “Class AA Biosolids.” Once converted to “Class AA,” sewage sludge is now considered to be “fertilizer,” and is no longer regulated or monitored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In this new form, the material has all the same algal bloom-fueling nutrients, but no regulation or tracking to limit where and how it is used.

What Will Happen?

From a practical standpoint, a truckload of Class AA spread on fields in Florida’s rural areas is actually worse for the environment. It contains more concentrated quantities of phosphorus and nitrogen and is not subject to current DEP requirements prohibiting biosolids applications in close proximity to wetlands, water bodies, and lands where the water table is near the surface.

What Should be Done about Sewage Sludge/Biosolids Pollution?

If the state decides to provide grants for the conversion of Class B biosolids to Class AA, reporting requirements should be listed in the agreement to help the state track where the nutrients are being applied and contemplate future restrictions on their use.

Additionally, funding should also be allocated to fund innovative solutions that will convert Class AA to something other than nutrient loaded fertilizer. For example, the conversion of sewage sludge to energy by generating electricity through gasification. Gasification projects were previously active in Florida and need support to scale up to be used as a viable solution to the problem of biosolids. Operational gasification facilities were demonstrated at the City of Sanford and City of Orlando.

With these improvements, this bill would have the potential to provide a long term solution to a growing problem.
Killdeer. Photo: Pat Ulrich/Audubon Photography Awards.
An American White Pelican lands on a water surface.
Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Hears Bills on Surface Water, Sea Level Rise, Saltwater Intrusion, and More
Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Chair, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral)), heard several bills on Tuesday – in addition to SB 0880 – about dredge and fill exemptions, sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and port canal dredging.

Surface Water Management ExemptionsSB 0910, Management and Storage of Surface Waters, by Sen. Burton (R-Lakeland) was voted on favorably in the committee. The bill exempts loosely defined “habitat creation, restoration, and enhancement” activities on agricultural and government land from laws governing management and storage of surface waters.In addition, the bill only requires a 30-day notification to DEP and water management districts prior to beginning activities, rather than the currently required approval from districts.This bill, as written, does not allow for sufficient oversight of loss of wetlands, or dredge and fill activities. Audubon will be advocating to include guardrails to ensure these projects benefit Florida’s natural resources, rather than serve as a shortcut around important environmental protections.  The House companion, HB 371, was filed by Rep. Killibrew (R-Winter Haven).

Sea Level Rise

Flooding and Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Studies, SB 1170, by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami), builds on existing law that requires a Sea Level Rise Impact Projection (SLIP) study for publicly funded projects to evaluate the impact of sea level rise on construction.This bill goes a step further and requires a SLIP study for any publicly funded projects built on the coast or inland if they can be impacted by sea level rise and are in an at-risk area.  Entities responsible for completing these studies must also consider mitigation measures to reduce this risk so infrastructure is built to withstand storms. This bill will help ensure that taxpayer funds are spent on infrastructure with long-term resiliency.The bill passed favorably through the committee. The House companion was filed by Rep. Hunchofsky and also passed its committee vote in the Agriculture, Conservation, and Resiliency Committee this week.   

Saltwater Intrusion

SB 0734, Saltwater Intrusion Vulnerability Assessments, filed by Sen. Polsky (D-Boca Raton), builds on SB 954 passed in 2021, which authorized local governments to form regional resilience compacts to plan for the resilience needs of communities.

Many of our coastal communities are facing saltwater intrusion as a result of sea level rise.  The bill requires the state’s 35 coastal communities (using grant funds from DEP) to complete saltwater vulnerability assessments by July 1, 2024 and to provide these reports to DEP and the water management districts to complement ongoing community vulnerability assessments. These assessments will allow the state to improve planning for community water supply needs in the face of changing climate.  The bill passed with unanimous support.

Deep-water Port Dredging

SB 1072, Dredging and Beach Restoration Projects, by Sen. Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral), passed its committee vote this week.

In order to minimize damage to coral reefs and marine life during dredging projects, the bill would require dredging projects for deep-water ports to complete an analysis to determine the adverse impacts of the activity on the natural habitat as a condition of maintenance dredging permits issued by DEP. This bill attempts to improve on the current requirements for damage assessments for sand dredging.

The House companion HB 979, was filed by Rep. Gossett-Seideman (R-Highland Beach) and has been referred to the House Water Quality and Water Supply Treatment Subcommittee. 
American White Pelican. Photo: Georgia Wilson Viera Rockledge/Audubon.
A Common Gallinule stands at the edge of a water body, with a big cement brick in the background.
Expansion of the Clean Waterways Act Grant Program
The Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Thad Altman, (R-Indialantic)) on Wednesday heard HB 827, sponsored by Rep. Basabe (R-Miami Beach), that expands the water quality grant program of the Clean Waterways Act to include projects intended to restore impaired waterways.

Previously, grants were limited to projects within a basin management action plan, alternative restoration plan, or rural area of opportunity.

Wastewater facility upgrades and septic-to-sewer conversion projects are often cost-prohibitive. Providing grants to local governments that have nutrient-impaired waters within their jurisdictions allows for faster clean-up of these waterways.

The Senate companion is sponsored by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral), and is now in its second committee of reference.
Common Gallinule. Photo: Judy Wolinksy/Audubon Photography Awards.
A photo of water surrounded by aquatic plants under a blue sky - Lake Okeechobee.
In 2021, the Everglades Experienced its Second-highest Nesting Effort for Many Wading Bird Species in 80 Years
Scientists estimated that wading birds initiated 102,000 nests in the 2021 nesting season — more than twice the 10-year average of 48,000 nests. 


Wading birds are important indicators of ecosystem health in the River of Grass, and each year the South Florida Water Management District — in collaboration with Audubon Florida and other partners — synthesizes wading bird survey data from across the Everglades to examine system-wide trends. When wading birds nest in large numbers and fledge chicks most years, they tell us that our efforts to improve the hydrology of South Florida ecosystems are successful.

Wading birds need the right combination of wet and dry conditions throughout the year to breed successfully. A wet summer that promoted high prey production followed by a dry winter and spring resulted in dropping water levels that concentrated prey in shallow pools or other water bodies — the recipe for a successful breeding season. When prey is concentrated, wading birds expend less energy to feed their voracious chicks. As a result, scientists estimated that wading birds initiated 102,000 nests in the 2021 nesting season —more than twice the 10-year average of 48,000 nests. 

Hope for the Future

“Well-timed rainfall in the Central Everglades resulted in big nesting efforts for the region's iconic wading birds — proof that if we get the water right, the birds will respond. The data tells us that if we restore habitats, birds can succeed, and it is our duty to give them a fighting chance,” says Kelly Cox, Audubon Florida’s Director of Everglades Policy. “Thanks to extreme rainfall, Wood Storks shared in these successes — an outlier as they still struggle in most years to raise chicks to fledging, especially in Southwest Florida's over-drained landscape."

Read our full wading bird report here.
An infographic describing the results of the wading bird report.
Sign up for our climate newsletter.
Audubon Florida
4500 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 350, Miami, FL 33137
(305) 371-6399 |

© 2024 National Audubon Society, Inc.

Update your email address or unsubscribe