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Senators press agencies for waterway cleanup plans in legislation

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Senators on a panel that pored over a House water bill on Wednesday said they’re going to want a detailed plan for cleaning up waterways in whatever legislation passes the Senate.

HB 7003 recognizes the Central Florida Water Initiative in state law while eliminating a South Florida Water Management District farm permitting program for Lake Okeechobee in favor of agricultural “best management practices.” It requires the setting of minimum flows for springs simultaneously with setting recovery goals, which environmentalists say will delay action.

Environmental groups support SB 918 by state Sen. Charlie Dean, which lacks the language about the Lake Okeechobee permitting program, while a coalition led by Associated Industries of Florida said it prefers the comprehensive approach taken in the House bill.

The Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation spent more than an hour on Wednesday going through the House bill and questioning state agency officials about cleaning up waterways.

Dan DeLisi, chief of staff at the South Florida Water Management District, said if the permitting program is eliminated at the district, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would take over compliance through with state cleanup plans, called “basin management action plans” or BMAPS.

“Again, it (enforcement) doesn’t go away — nothing goes away,” he said. “We just only makes it consistent with BMAP, which was a 2-1/2 year multi-stakeholder process for how we are going to clean up this (Lake Okeechobee) watershed.”

Dean asked how anything in the legislation helped the state better develop water supply plans. Rich Budell, director of agricultural water policy at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the bill requires additional details in five-year plans for water supply projects.

“The changes we are trying to make in here are really just tweaks to the existing system,” Budell said.

Senators pressed the district and a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for plans with deadlines and projects needed to clean up springs, the Everglades and other waterways.

Asked after the meeting whether the controversial elimination of the Lake Okeechobee permitting program will pass the Legislature, state Sen. David Simmons said he thinks the Senate will listen to the House while adopting a methodology to deal with water problems.

“What I’m saying to you is there are multiple ways of solving the problem,” said Simmons, a Republican from Altamonte Springs who is Rules Committee chairman. “At the end of the day, we have to say the problem will be solved.”

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

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