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House speaker says water bills closer, advisory council could be sticking point

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House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Wednesday that the Senate is getting closer to the House on a comprehensive water bill but some differences remain.

SB 918 was rewritten in a committee on Wednesday in response to requests by business groups and environmentalists, both of whom had raised concerns. Both sides still have issues, with environmentalists still more critical of the Senate and House bills than business groups.

The Senate bill would establish springs protection zones, provide consistency in pollution regulations dealing with Lake Okechobee and incorporate Central Florida water supply planning in state law.

“We’re getting closer, I would certainly say that,” Crisafulli told reporters. “They are certainly coming over on some of our positions.”

The Senate bill also would establish the Florida Water Resource Advisory Council to evaluate and recommend water projects. That is lacking in the House bill.

Crisafulli, a Republican from Merritt Island, said that council could be a sticking point between the chambers — but he needs to leaern more about the proposal.

“I’m not a fan of taking away legislative authority,” Crisafulli told reporters. “With their council, they may be creating some of that.”

The Senate bill was rewritten to place more responsibility on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and water management districts for improving wastewater to clean up springs. Industry groups previously said the bill created additional layers of regulations.

The Senate bill also was rewritten to place deadlines for achieving water quality standards for water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and then released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

Representatives of Audubon Florida and the Everglades Foundation said those deadlines improved the bill. But Audubon’s Eric Draper said the bill still didn’t do much to address South Florida pollution issues.

SB 918 still has one more committee stop. The House version, HB 7003, passed that chamber 106-9 on March 5.

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

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