Adam Putnam says despite criticism, water bill makes ‘tremendous progress’ for springs

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Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday the 2015 legislative session is going well from a policy standpoint including a water bill his department is supporting.

SB 918/HB 7003 eliminate a Lake Okeechobee pollution permitting program, set deadlines for establishing minimum flow levels for springs, requires review of springs cleanup plans and places a Central Florida water supply planning initiative in state law.

Environmentalists and newspaper editorial writers have criticized the bill as being business- and agriculture-friendly without providing an enforceable plan for cleaning up springs.

After reading to schoolchildren at the historic Capitol on Ag Literacy Day, Putnam said the water bill makes “tremendous progress” in protecting springs.

“It certainly meets the test of being a statewide approach — it’s springs and Everglades and surface- and groundwater,” he said.

“It’s certainly an evolving process,” Putnam said of state water policy. “But this is a major step forward for dealing with Florida’s future water supply and water quality needs.”

Amendment 1 also has been a major issue during the session, with environmental groups critical of the $10.5 million provided by the House in its 2015-16 state budget for land acquisition and $37 million provided by the Senate. The two chambers are at an impasse on a budget agreement because of differences over healthcare spending.

Putnam noted that his department requested $25 million for payments to landowners, called conservation easements, while there also is a role for land acquisition. The House provides that $25 million for conservation easements in the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program but the Senate does not include the funding.

“We are hopeful when the healthcare issues are resolved,” Putnam said, “that we will still be able to budget those resources to protect Florida’s sensitive environmental areas, protect working agricultural lands, keep ‘em on the tax rolls but also enjoy the ecological benefits of the state buying those development rights.”

Asked whether his department will be hurt if the Legislature can’t adopt a budget before the scheduled May 1 end of the session, Putnam said, “I’m confident the Legislature will be able to work through its budget issues and we’ll have a budget before the start of the next fiscal year.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.