As of this writing we are at the half way point in Florida's 60-day legislative session. SCCF and its members have been actively engaged in the following issues this legislative session:
Budget: The Governor’s environmental budget requests $625 million for water quality initiatives and Everglades restoration. After some expressed concerns over competing priorities, the Senate has largely matched the Governor’s environmental budget request with $360 million for Everglades Restoration, $17.4 million to combat Red Tide and Blue Green Algae and $29.6 million for local water projects. The House proposes slightly less on the same initiatives with $327.4 million for Everglades Restoration, $15 million for Red Tide and Blue Green Algae and $26 million for local water projects. One glaring shortfall is the legislative funding proposed for the Florida Forever Land Acquisition program. The Governors budget proposed $100 million the Senate is at $45 million and the House is $20 million from the House. The balance of the environmental proposals are included in beach and springs restoration and related agency programmatic funding.
Water Quality: Septic tank maintenance and biosolids bills to address sources of pollution water quality
SB 1022/HB 973 and SB 1278/HB 405.
Fracking Ban: SB 7064 and HB 7029, only address hydraulic fracturing, not all forms of Fracking such as matrix acidizing.
Transportation: SCCF strongly opposes the heartland expressway bills, SB 7068 and PCB TTA 19-02, to divert funds to build 3 mid-state toll roads
Florida Forever: SCCF strongly supports SB 944 and HB 1341 which call for the adequate funding of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund at $100 million.
The last half of the session will feature frenetic activity to have bills heard and reconcile the budget. Check SCCFs Legislative Tracker for daily updates on legislative budget negotiations and on the over 40 bills that SCCF is following. Access the legislative tracker on the SCCF webpage under Resources at the top of the page.
Governors Executive Order
Dr. Thomas K. Frazer has served as the Director of the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment since 2012 and previously served as Acting Director of the UF Water Institute. At UF, his research focuses on the effects of anthropogenic activities on the ecology of both freshwater and marine ecosystems. He currently serves as chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. He received his B.S. in Marine Fisheries from Humboldt State University, his M.S. in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences from the University of Florida and his PhD. In Biological Sciences from the University of California Santa Barbara.
On March 14th a new Governing Board was seated at the SFWMD with 7 seats filled and 2 awaiting appointment. Their first order of business was to elect Sanibel's own Chauncey Goss as Chairman and Miami Dade appointee Scott Wagner Vice Chairman. Next, they selected Drew Bartlett to serve as the agencies Executive Director. In accepting the position Drew announced, "It is up to this District to knock down all obstacles to ensure comprehensive Everglades restoration is implemented quickly."
We have worked with Drew Bartlett over 13 years first when he was at EPA then at DEP. His understanding of the state's water quality and Everglades restoration issues instills a partner at the agency at the heart of water management. This new team can implement the Governor's Executive Order to address our region’s serious water issues. Senate confirmation of the appointments is scheduled for Tuesday, April 2.
C43 Reservoir Contracted
At the March 14 meeting the Governing Board awarded a $524 million contract to complete the Caloosahatchee (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir in Hendry County. This contract includes building approximately 19 miles of embankments, 15 miles of perimeter canals and 14 water control structures as well as recreational features on the 10,500-acre site. The reservoir is designed to hold 170,000 acre-feet of watershed runoff at depths of 15-25 feet to provide an additional source of water to provide dry season flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary.
This long-awaited project, purchased in 2001, will intercept watershed runoff and provide approximately 30% of the watershed storage the SFWMD determined was needed following the devastating 2005 wet season. With the vote Chairman Goss stated, "This is a major milestone and step forward for restoring and protecting the Caloosahatchee Estuary, as well as our west coast communities." The SFWMD also announced its partnership with DEP and local governments to evaluate a much-needed water quality treatment component for the reservoir. A feasibility study will begin this year with public involvement.
The SFWMD is the largest of the state's five water management districts, covering 16 Counties supporting a population of 8.1 million residents.
Cape Coral Water Forum
On March 26 Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello convened a community forum in Cape Coral to provide the public with an in-depth perspective on how water is managed, last year's water crisis, water quality projects and solutions. Presenters included Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Reynolds, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deputy District Commander, South Florida; Chauncey Goss, SFWMD Chairman; Rae Ann Wessel, SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director; Daniel Andrews, co-founder Captains for Clean Water; and Jeff Pearson, Cape Coral Utilities Director. The forum provided residents and visitors the chance to gain an understanding of the interconnection of southwest Florida's water to the greater Everglades ecosystem and water management, causes of water pollution, solutions and actions that were taken during last year's algae crisis and how long-term restoration is a fundamental solution. Following the formal presentations, the public had the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters on a one-on-one basis.
The riverfront community of Gulf Harbour along the Caloosahatchee suffered this past year from the region’s double whammy of harmful algal blooms: blue green algae and red tide. The impact on wildlife and human health and the region's economy spurred a group of community leaders into action to become informed about the impacts and to engage the community in working together toward solutions to clean up the water and prevent future blooms. Their quest for answers led them to SCCF with a series of programs to explain the science of how we got here and the policy opportunities we can work on together in order to affect change. We appreciate their willingness to work on solutions and be part of the process.
This year’s joint Everglades Update with the Everglades Foundation, entitled Investing for a Healthy Estuary and Everglades, focused on the progress being made and opportunities for significant advancement in Estuary and Everglades restoration. SCCF Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel opened the program with an overview of the greater Everglades system, the changes and challenges that remain to be solved today and the fallout from the worst water quality crisis in recorded history. The good news is that the newly minted Governor has announced funding for and a focus on the key projects and policies needed to reverse the damage and provide a better future.
Everglades Foundation COO, Shannon Estenoz’s message built on these fundamentals, with the idea that we must change our patterns from 19th century methods to a 21st century model. The change is needed because the nearly century-old flood control project, built for an anticipated two million people, today must support eight million residents. Looking at Everglades restoration as a critical water infrastructure project it is clear that costs are high and timelines are long but the benefits gained will pay dividends that we cannot achieve without the investment. Especially because today, Florida's economy has shifted from being primarily agriculture to being driven by tourism.
The Governor’s focus on and understanding of these issues is key to providing a road map to the future. It will be up to all of us to help support innovative ways of investing in our future. Stay engaged!