Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
Loxahatchee NWR
Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: National Park Service
Wrapping up the 2020 Legislative Session
Florida’s 60-day legislative session came to a close Thursday with the passage of the state budget. Audubon staff worked tirelessly on legislation related to Water, Everglades, Climate, and funding for land acquisition and conservation programs this year, working to move good bills to the finish line and minimize the effects of bad bills. Thanks to your responses to our action alert, many of those amendments were withdrawn. Thank you – we couldn’t have done it without you!

This end-of-session report highlights our successes as well as some of the challenges we faced. Our thoughts are already turned towards next year!
Least Tern. Photo by Rick Lewis/Audubon Photography Awards
Conservation Appropriations
Robust conservation funding remained in the budget that passed both chambers on Thursday. Many thanks to Representatives Raschein and Cummings as well as Senators Mayfield and Bradley for their leadership!

With your help, we secured:
$100 million in Florida Forever funding (including $8.7 million for Rural and Family Lands Protection Program),
$318.6 million for Everglades Restoration and Protection,
$270.8 million for Water (not including $76 million for water projects),
and $41 million for State Park improvements.

Water
$50 million for the restoration of Florida’s freshwater springs
$100 million in Targeted Water Quality Funding for the following categories:
  • $25 million for water quality projects that help meet water quality restoration goals (“Total Maximum Daily Loads,” or TMDLs). 
  • $25 million Wastewater and Stormwater grants
  • $25 million for the St. John’s, Suwanee and Apalachicola Basins
  • $25 million for the Indian River Lagoon Basins
$50** million for Storage and Treatment North of Lake Okeechobee
$40 million for Alternative Water Supply Projects to help communities implement conservation and reuse programs
$10 million for Innovative Technologies to combat Harmful Algal Blooms
$10.8 million for Water Quality Improvements
$10 million for Coral Reef Protection and Restoration

**Research on the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery Wells for the storage of water is not yet complete. $50 million was appropriated to this initiative in 2019. Many questions remain about pre-treatment, water recovery, toxicity, etc with respect to these wells. In an abundance of caution, a pilot study rather than a full-fledged implementation of ASR wells would be a more judicious use of these funds.

Everglades
$32.7 million for Restoration Strategies
$169.9 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
$64 million for the Everglades Reservoir
$47 million for the Northern Everglades and Estuary Protection Program
$5 million for Dispersed Storage

Florida Forever and Land Management Programs
$67 million for DEP’s Land Acquisition and Management Program
$8.7 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program
$2 million for the Working Waterfronts Program
$10 million for Florida Communities Trust
$12.3 million for Florida Recreation Development Assistance Programs

Resiliency
$10 million for Florida’s Resilient Coastline Initiative
$50 million for Beaches

Estuaries
$500,000 for the St. Andrews and St. Joe Estuary Programs
$500,000 for the Pensacola and Perdido Bay Estuary Programs
Great-crested Flycatcher
Great-crested Flycatcher. Photo by Gary Rasmussen, Audubon Photography Awards.
We Celebrate Water and Climate Bills That Made it Over the Finish Line
• Developed with bi-partisan support, SB 0712, the Clean Waterways Bill, is a long-awaited first step in reducing pollution from every major source: septic tanks, wastewater, stormwater, agriculture, and biosolids. Audubon policy staff worked with legislators to keep protections needed for our sensitive waterways.

• The Environmental Accountability bill, HB 1091, increased fines on entities that violate environmental laws. The cost of violating environmental laws must be impactful to change bad practices.

• In a win for climate adaptation, 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.

• Thanks to your voices, Audubon was able to minimize the harmful effects of a fireworks bill, SB 0140, that allows the personal use of explosive fireworks on designated holidays.

• We celebrate the appropriation of $100 million towards Florida Forever Conservation Programs, which is an important increase from last year’s modest land conservation appropriation.
Audubon May Valley Ranch. Photo by Evan Barrientos.
Audubon May Valley Ranch. Photo by Evan Barrientos.
Important Environmental Protection Amendment on Agriculture Bill to Benefit Green Swamp
Thanks to Representative Jennifer Sullivan (R) of Lake County, a good amendment on HB 921 is now on its way to the Governor. The amendment allows the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to revoke Aquaculture Facility Certifications if they find that such a facility is actually not the primary purpose of the certified entity's operation. This will eliminate the practice of sand mining interests camouflaging permit applications for new sand mines as fish farms in Lake County's Wekiva Protection during the application process. 

These proposed “fish farms” are never intended to actually produce fish. Instead, the sites are abandoned after miners extract sand for road construction projects. Lake County Commission Chairman Leslie Campione went into action to get the Legislature to plug this bad loophole. Let’s thank Representative Jennifer Sullivan and hope Governor DeSantis signs this bill with this good provision in it to protect the Wekiva ecosystem and much more!
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane. Photo by Kurt Bowman.
DOT M-Cores Process Extended, Meetings Postponed
Due to COVID-19, the upcoming DOT task force meetings concerning the proposed Northern Turnpike Extension and Suncoast Connector proposals have been postponed. Audubon asked, with DOT’s help, that the time for the production of the final report be extended. Senator Tom Lee and President Bill Galvano responded, placing an amendment in the Legislature’s annual “Implementing Bill” that provides a 45-day extension for the final report to November 15, 2020.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron. Photo by Michael Greer.
Improved Management of Rodman Reservoir Could Benefit Upstream Forests
Though the recent drawdown of North Central Florida’s Rodman Reservoir only lasted a few months, it was long enough to witness the emergence of new tree seedlings and blooming blue flag iris in the upstream forests beyond the reservoir. When kept at depths of 18-20 feet, the reservoir backs water up the Ocklawaha and drowns the adjacent wetland forests. An estimated 1,500 acres of forest habitat have suffered species loss and no longer experience natural changes in hydrology critical to their long-term health. At the end of the drawdown, a decision to hold the reservoir at 16 feet or below could restore ecological function to large areas of forest habitat along the Ocklawaha River in the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. Audubon is working with partners exploring the connection between lower stages in the reservoir and improved conditions in upstream forests.
Tricolored heron
Tricolored Heron. Photo by Bill Chitty, Audubon Photography Awards.
Last Minute Sneak Attack on Everglades Estuaries Added to Budget Bill
A last-minute addition to the Implementing Bill, HB 5003, dealt a setback to improving water quality in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. In recent months, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has been moving forward with plans to implement a source pollution control program for Northern Everglades and Estuaries (NEEP) Basins. Unfortunately, language added by the House of Representatives limits the District's ability for the next year, allowing them to only create a uniform monitoring program (among other things) for dischargers who choose not to implement best management practices. Language introduced in the 11th hour is frequently up to no good, and the rule holds true in this instance. Tying the state’s hands on addressing the sources of pollution impacting the Everglades estuaries is short-sighted and benefits a few polluters at the expense of the public trust.
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