As the legislative session draws to a close, we celebrate water and climate bills that made it over the finish line, and are beginning new advocacy training sessions with our local chapters. There is still time to act on an Army Corps of Engineers plan to guide water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Sending water south is key to helping get water to the park and away from the northern estuaries!
 
Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
Glossy Ibis. Photo: Charles Dewey/Audubon Photography Awards.
Glossy Ibis. Photo: Charles Dewey/Audubon Photography Awards.
Important Water Bill Passes
Good news! A priority for Governor DeSantis and Floridians alike, SB 0712 strengthens Florida’s water policy by updating regulations that will reduce water pollution and benefit water quality and quantity. Developed with bi-partisan support and passing the House and Senate chambers this week with a unanimous vote, the Environmental Resource Management bill by Senator Mayfield (R-Vero) and Representative Payne (R-Palatka) is a first step towards reducing pollution from every major source: septic tanks, wastewater, stormwater, agriculture, and biosolids. This bill includes many sound common sense improvements, such as backup power for pumping stations for wastewater systems, and requiring utilities to have maintenance plans.

Also a priority for the Governor and a part of his bold agenda was raising the state's $10,000 fine for spilling raw sewage into waterways to hold local governments and utilities accountable for their actions. The Environmental Accountability bill, HB 1091, filed by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) and Representative Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) passed the House and Senate chambers yesterday and will be headed to the Governor for his signature. This bill increases penalties for wastewater spills by 100 percent and increases penalties by 50 percent for other environmental violations. The cost of violating environmental laws must be impactful to change bad practices.

To read more about our Executive Director’s thoughts on SB 0712 and environmental achievements this session in the “3 Questions” section of Florida Politics, click here.
Ruddy Turnstone. Photo: Lane Kistler/Audubon Photography Awards.
Ruddy Turnstone. Photo: Lane Kistler/Audubon Photography Awards.
Climate Win Requires Sea Level Rise Impact Studies for State-financed Construction
After more than three years of persistence and tireless work, Senator Rodriguez (D-Miami) and Representative Aloupis’ bill, SB 0178, received unanimous support when passing both House and Senate chambers this week. SB 0178 requires state-financed buildings along the coast to complete a sea-level rise impact study to limit impacts from flooding and wave action. Yet another good bill that will be heading to the Governor for his signature.
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo: Noah Browning/Audubon Photography Awards.
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo: Noah Browning/Audubon Photography Awards.
Appropriations Negotiations Continue
House and Senate leadership predicted that the 2020 Legislative Session would last longer than sixty days. They were correct!

Budget allocations for major issues have been worked out, and Audubon policy staff will be watching out for budget alerts over the next few days. Final negotiations should be completed this weekend, though the COVID-19 pandemic has revenue estimators scrambling to predict the economic impact and modify the state budget accordingly.

Our funding priorities have fared well so far: Everglades, Water, Springs, Resiliency, State Parks, Florida Forever, and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP). Below is a summary of our priority areas. Tune in to the next edition of the Advocate, as details will be provided when the final budget has been worked out.
*includes nearly $43.5 million for water projects.
**includes $8.7 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.
Laura Aguirre, Audubon Florida Conservation Organizer, leads the training.
Laura Aguirre, Audubon Florida Conservation Organizer, leads the training.
Audubon Florida Begins Chapter Climate Trainings
Audubon Florida is working with local chapters on a new initiative to host climate advocacy trainings around the state. Last weekend Conservation Organizer Laura Aguirre led a session with Kissimmee Valley Audubon focused on reviewing the fundamentals of climate science, getting up to speed on state and county action on climate solutions, parsing through local government structures and policies, and practicing advocacy skills.

Read more here.
M-CORES Update
The M-CORES public open house sessions have been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Upcoming Task Force meetings in Monticello concerning the Suncoast Connector on March 24th and in Ocala concerning the Northern Turnpike Extension on March 25th are still scheduled...but postponement is possible. Check with the DOT M-CORES website for cancellation announcements.

DOT has also published new "Avoidance" and "Colocation" maps, adding new avoidance areas to some of the maps. Also for the first time, possible "co-location" routes where a turnpike might replace or augment an existing road corridor are shown on the maps. 

Click here to see this Northern Turnpike map as an example.
A Green Heron leans over the water, looking for prey. Edward Cordes/Audubon Photography Awards.
Green Heron. Photo: Edward Cordes/Audubon Photography Awards.
Act by March 16 to Ensure the Everglades and Florida Bay Benefit from the COP
The Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District are finalizing a plan that will guide where, when, and how much water will flow south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, called the Combined Operations Plan (COP).

Audubon has been engaged in this process since day one. Sending water south is key to helping get water to the Park and away from the Northern Estuaries! We have specifically called for a plan that increases freshwater flows south into the Everglades and Florida Bay, especially during the dry season to prevent harmful salinity levels, seagrass die-offs, and fish kills. The draft operations plan was released for public comment through Monday, March 16. Even though the draft plan provides some benefits it still underperforms during critical drier periods when the Park and the Bay need freshwater the most.

Please take action now! This is the public’s final opportunity to comment on the operations plan, which will ultimately influence the future health and sustainability of Florida Bay.

Send a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers here.
COVID-19
In these challenging times, know our thoughts are with all of you and we hope you find solace in wild Florida, as we do. For Audubon closures and other news, please stay tuned to social media and our website, fl.audubon.org.
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