Audubon Florida
The Advocate
In Week 2 of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session, Audubon tracked threats to Southwest Florida's Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve while applauding Everglades protection and carbon sequestration bills. We continue to work with elected officials to improve water quantity and quality in the Sunshine State. Read on to learn more!
Tricolored Heron in flight.
Everglades Protection Area Bill Takes Next Step Forward
SB 1364, Everglades Protection Area, sponsored by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami), Chair of the Community Affairs Committee, provides that any proposed changes to a local government’s comprehensive development plan, within a development-free buffer zone to protect the Everglades, must undergo Florida’s coordinated review process.

This would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether the changes would adversely impact the Everglades Protection Area and, if so, require that they be altered to eliminate the potential harm.

The Everglades encompasses an area twice the size of New Jersey and its restoration footprint is the largest initiative of its kind in the world. Recent residential and commercial development proposals are a threat to the agricultural and protected lands surrounding the Everglades.

The bill was passed favorably in the Community Affairs Committee this week. The bill’s House companion, HB 0723, is sponsored by Rep. Cabrera (R-Coral Gables).
Tricolored Heron. Photo: Philip Sidran/Audubon Photography Awards.
A group of American White Pelicans sitting in shallow water.
Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve at Risk
The 13,800-acre Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve—bordered on the west by islands like Lovers Key State Park and to the east by mangroves along the mainland—was purchased and protected from development many years ago. Estero Bay become the first designated aquatic preserve in 1966. Now it is under threat.

SB 1210, Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, by Sen. Martin (R-Ft.Myers) (House companion HB 057 by Rep. Botana (R-Bonita Springs)) revises the boundaries of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve to allow a portion of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve to be opened up to dredging for a 300-slip marina proposed for that location. This is an egregious violation of the local conservation efforts that put this important ecosystem under protection decades ago. Audubon is working for a more protective outcome.
American White Pelicans. Photo: Jonathan Auerbach/Audubon Photography Awards.
SB 1386 Could Impact Water Use, Resilience Planning
SB 1386,  Department of Environmental Protection, by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami)

Audubon is tracking SB 1386’s updated provisions that will impact consumptive use permitting, reclaimed water use, and resilience planning.

The bill would allow consumptive use permits to be issued for 30 years, as opposed to the current limit of 20, if the permittee proposes a water supply development or water resource development project using reclaimed water as part of their application. The bill requires the permittee to demonstrate certain benefits from the reclaimed water use; we want to ensure the benefits are sustainable and are worth the risks associated with the extended permit duration.

The bill also includes good language expanding the list of regional entities allowed to receive funding for local resilience efforts to include regional planning councils and estuary partnerships. These entities are critical in regional planning efforts and work extensively with local governments making them a logical conduit for resilience funding.

Finally, the bill includes a good provision requiring wastewater within areas with water quality concerns (BMAP or RAP areas) to be treated to higher Advanced Wastewater Treatments standards if it is to be reused (for irrigation or similar uses) as reclaimed water. This will help ensure that the benefits of reclaimed water are not undermined by nutrient problems—a move we would like to see expanded to cover all applications of reclaimed water throughout the state.
Crested Caracara in flight over grasses.
Carbon Sequestration Bill Heard in Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
SB 1258, Carbon Sequestration, by Chair Rodriguez (R-Miami) and HB 1187 by Rep. Cross (D-St. Petersburg) establishes a new multi-disciplinary and interagency task force to develop the framework for a state-level carbon sequestration program.

Over a period of two years, the task force will study suitable habitat and land uses for carbon sequestration, establish methodology, metrics, and benchmarks for success, and identify funding and market opportunities for a carbon sequestration program. This task force will identify how the state can optimize carbon storage in our natural and agricultural areas for the benefit of our environment in order to both protect our natural resources and increase our state’s resiliency.
Crested Caracara. Photo: Susan Faulkner Davis/Audubon Photography Awards.
Pied-billed Grebe.
Worrisome Wetland Mitigation Bill Also Moves Forward
SB 1532, Mitigation, by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford) and HB 1073 by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares) expand the scope of entities eligible to purchase “credits” from offsite water quality projects to meet permit conditions. 

This system does not provide adequate protection for waterbodies already suffering impairment. It will also likely  cause poor water quality "hotspots" because treatment will be allowed far from where impacts are occurring.

Even more worrisome: The bill requires governmental agencies to review proposals to use public lands for wetland mitigation projects. Using protected, taxpayer-purchased public lands to offset destruction of wetlands in urban and suburban areas is not in the public’s best interest.

The committee voted favorably to advance to bill to its next committee stop.
Pied-billed Grebe. Photo: Kathryn Keith/Audubon Photography Award.
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