Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Springs bill advances in Senate, though stripped of funding

A bill to help restore Florida's ailing springs passed its last committee stop in the Senate, but wound up stripped of millions in projected funding.

The bill, SB 1576, won approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee after it was amended to take out a funding source that would have supplied an estimated $380 million in documentary stamp tax money for cleaning up the pollution tainting the state's iconic springs. The amended bill also allows the state to waive the deadlines for cleanup that were in the original.

Environmental advocates did not object to the changes, but the loss of guaranteed funding upset representatives from the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties. They said cash-strapped local governments should not be forced to pay the full price for cleaning up pollution.

When they began working on a springs bill last summer, said Stephen James of the Florida Association of Counties, the intent was to secure funding, prioritize which springs needed help the most, and make sure cities and counties got the help they needed to fix such pollution problems as leaky septic tanks.

"Up until yesterday that's what this bill did," James told the committee, pointing to the $380 million originally included in the language. "But today we're looking at — what, $10 million?"

The counties with springs tend to be "counties that are struggling, struggling badly," he said. "They are low income, low tax values, high unemployment.""

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told the committee that what they had before them was "a placeholder" that "gets us started so we can begin negotiations with the House." He assured them that in the end, they would get "a blueprint for solving our water crisis."

While the Senate bill has moved steadily, the House version has not been heard in a single committee. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said he does not believe the issue can be solved this year, and anyway incoming Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, wants to tackle water policy issues next year as his signature issue.

Florida has more than 1,000 freshwater springs, hailed as the greatest concentration of springs in the world. But many suffer from nitrate pollution that fuels the growth of toxic algae blooms caused by fertilizer and septic tank waste in storm runoff.

Compounding the pollution is a decline in flow that in some cases resulted in them sputtering out completely or reversing flow.

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

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Published: 02/17/18