Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Column: Protecting Florida's water resources, now and for the future

All things in life are affected by a myriad of issues and conditions that often require balance to bring them back to a state of restoration. Consider Florida's water needs. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and other environmental advocates agree our state must do more toward meeting Florida's long-term water needs. That includes protecting Florida's springs.

Florida's natural resources are ranked as some of the best in the world. With more than 1,300 miles of coastline and more than 35 first-magnitude natural springs in Florida, our state's natural resources should be protected in sustainable ways that address long-term issues for today and future generations.

This state has some of the toughest water standards in the nation. These tough standards recently prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to agree with the Florida Chamber and withdraw its overlapping water rules in favor of Florida's scientifically backed numeric nutrient criteria rules. These new state water quality protections include robust pollution standards for our springs that will drive restoration projects for years to come. In every corner of the state, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, led by Herschel Vinyard, is working to help restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams based on science — not science fiction.

The Florida Chamber's commitment to preparing for our state's growth in even smarter and more sustainable ways is long standing. For more than 28 years, the Florida Chamber Foundation has presented the annual Environmental Permitting Summer School — a program attended by more than 800 attorneys, consultants, engineers, state and local government officials, land owners and developers with strong interests in sharing ideas on improving environmental permitting, alternative water projects and statewide water policy in Florida.

Throughout the 2014 legislative session, the Florida Chamber encouraged state leaders to plan smartly for Florida's growing population — 6 million more residents will call Florida home by 2030 and almost 95 million visitors come to our state each year. This means water demand will increase 28 percent between 2013 and 2030. Preparing for growth in even smarter and more sustainable ways will help secure Florida's future. Expanding the use of alternative water supplies and allowing for new water storage efforts on agricultural lands are a few examples of how we get there.

But success comes at a cost. For instance, to clean up impaired springs, substantial taxpayer dollars (billions, in fact) are needed to fund wastewater treatment upgrades, connect homes to centralized treatment, subsidize rural homeowners who cannot afford high-performance septic tanks, pay for storm water treatment upgrades and assist family farms implementing advanced water management practices.

With the proposed Florida Water and Land Legacy constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot, funding for projects like these will be severely hampered. The amendment ties the hands of future Legislatures and doesn't provide the flexibility to fund the immediate water needs of the state. State-local and public-private partnerships will be essential.

That was the starting point for Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and others who championed springs protection legislation this past session. We supported Simmons' desire to provide a funding mechanism for the proposed improvement projects. Our mutual support for maintaining our world-class environmental assets is built around a simple belief that water policy should support the health and prosperity of all Floridians, now and in the future.

What developed, however, was a water protection bill that was stripped of nearly all of its funding — an unfunded mandate — that lacked effective, science-based solutions to help protect Florida's natural resources and promote sustainable economic growth. Simmons' plan was to redirect a portion of the documentary stamp revenue into a springs protection trust fund. However, Florida's revenue estimates were reduced by the amount the proposed constitutional amendment, if passed, will take away — leaving springs protection efforts with only a fraction of needed funding.

Although frustrated that this year's effort did succeed, we hope all of us in Florida's environmental community will take a moment instead to celebrate the more than $88 million in local water projects that will have a positive, direct effect on the communities we live and work in.

As a leading advocate for quality-of-life and quality-of-places, the Florida Chamber will continue encouraging a comprehensive, statewide and long-term plan that includes protection for all natural resource water bodies. We look forward to leading Florida's long-term policy efforts by working with incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and incoming Senate President Andy Gardner, R-Orlando, in passing legislation that will truly benefit all of Florida's natural resources.

Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18