Florida water issues may be put off until 2015

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Even after two measures in the Florida Senate, and a 200-person rally Tuesday at the Historic Capitol, wetland advocates may have to wait for future legislative sessions before the state cleans up its natural springs, bays and streams.

Although House Speaker Will Weatherford says he is “sensitive” to natural springs proposals to be released by the Senate, he tells Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida that House lawmakers will focus on issues they “can control” in 2014.

“I think we’ll tackle a lot of the funding issues this year,” Weatherford added. “I think there is an opportunity for us to address some of the policies issues, but water is so broad. You have water quality, you have water quantity, water infrastructure and how we move water resources.”

Weatherford also deferred any water-issue plans to Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, who will take over the House in 2015.

Brushing aside water issues means that most of the $380 million proposal — reducing the amount of fertilizers released into waterways, no-cost replacements of aging septic systems and redirecting the flow of wastewater — will have to wait until at least next year.  

A priority will be Senate budget chief Joe Negron’s efforts to reduce releases from Lake Okeechobee in South Florida, a plan that would cost $220 million, including first-year costs of $160 million.

“I would agree it’s advantageous for what I’m trying to do to have the focus on funding,” Negron told the News Service when asked about Weatherford’s water plans.

Tuesday’s Historic Capitol clean water rally—attended by the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Florida, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Silver Springs Alliance and Our Sante Fe River — had activists demanding that lawmakers address a wide range of water-related issues.

The group called for improved quality and quantity of Florida drinking-water sources, freshwater springs, as well as the Apalachicola River area and South Florida.

“What will the value of the Florida brand be when the dirty reality of Florida’s water eclipses our sterling reputation,” said Springs Eternal Project spokesperson John Moran. “Talk about a game-changer; what do you suppose will happen when our reputation, like our formerly pristine waters, reaches the tipping point and the stench of dead and dying pelicans and manatees and dolphins is exceeded only by the stench of our dying tourism economy?”

Gov. Rick Scott proposed $55 million in 2014 for the springs, a $45 million increase from 2013. 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.