The next two weeks will show whether Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House genuinely care about the health of the state's natural springs. A bipartisan Senate bill would begin to tackle decades of environmental rot — improving water flow and quality, public health and tourism across the state. Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford should quit stalling. Not acting now would only reward polluters and make the difficult cleanup job even harder.
Florida's once crystal-clear springs are choking on runoff from septic tanks, wastewater plants, storm drains, farms and well-fertilized lawns. This pollution is seeping directly into the public drinking water supply. A bill that has sailed unanimously through two Senate committees, SB 1576, would address the problem in a comprehensive way, requiring new protection zones for springs and timetables and funding for restoring these vital resources.
The bill breaks new ground by confronting three nagging realities. It acknowledges that a cleanup plan must be sweeping enough to address the health of entire watersheds, so it brings together state and local communities and the private sector. It spotlights leaky septic tanks and wastewater plants as environmental hazards, and outlines a course for cleaning up these sources of nutrient pollution. The bill also dedicates a healthy and perpetual funding source for springs restoration, which is essential if these plans are to ever get implemented.
A companion bill in the House has gone nowhere. Weatherford has instead allowed a key ally to push a separate bill that would gut environmental protections. And he has deferred a springs overhaul to House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who wants to wait because "it's going to take more than a year to solve this problem." The House is running out the clock, and the governor is letting it happen.
The Senate should continue to push the legislation and resist any attempts by the House or the governor to weaken it. For any restoration plan to work, the state needs to get rid of the leaky septic tanks, hook more people and industries to central sewers and require better treatment of wastewater. A piecemeal strategy involving only voluntary efforts by the private sector will not work. And strong and stable funding is vital for restoration efforts that must evolve over decades.
Faulting the Senate plan for its ambition captures perfectly why the springs are in such sorry shape. The Senate should not allow the House to neuter the legislation under the guise of starting small. There is enough scientific information to proceed, and with the economy recovering, a financial case for moving ahead. All eyes are on the House.
Watch video below for more on Florida's troubled springs.