Representative Trudi Williams, Chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Water Policy and opening speaker for the 2011 Florida Water Forum, briefed the audience on upcoming committee meetings that will be held throughout the summer and topics to be addressed including: 1) incentives to encourage utilities to maximize water conservation that may be required under consumptive use permits by extending the duration of CUPS for those utilities that demonstrate good conservation stewardship, 2) raising the debate over reclaimed water to focus on the fact that it should be considered a “commodity” for the utilities that invest in creating it, rather than a resource to be permitted by the state, 3) continued attention on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA’s) efforts to regulate nutrient water standards (numeric nutrient criteria) in the state of Florida. Rep. Williams expressed frustration that despite strong bipartisan support in the House during the 2011 session, the Senate failed to take up her HB 239 – legislation that would have addressed many concerns about numeric nutrient criteria (NNC), and 4) an analysis of how the state can improve its water policy.
Many of the forum speakers dealt expressly with the NNC issue. In a video-taped presentation, Congressman Dennis Ross expressed his support for significantly reining in the EPA and his dismay over the fact that the Agency has singled out Florida for the imposition of federally-mandated NNC. He questioned the science and the economic analysis that the EPA has presented in promulgating its regulations, and promised to support the many stakeholder interests whose concerns mirror his own.
Legal water expert, David Childs, provided an entertaining “numerical” analysis of the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria. Most importantly, he pointed out how the EPA’s activities in this arena have seriously undermined the state’s successful Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) program. In essence, many of the state’s scientifically defensible nutrient criteria established as part of existing TMDLs, will be “thrown out” under the EPA’s oversight.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Adam Putnam, provided a well-received luncheon keynote address, likewise focusing many of his remarks on the problems associated with the EPA’s intervention in the state’s water quality standard-setting responsibilities. Putnam lauded the efforts of the Florida congressional delegation as well as the Florida legislature to push back on the EPA in an effort to keep numeric nutrient criteria a Florida-focused regulatory program based on a science and data. The Commissioner also emphasized the need to heighten the attention and financial resources needed to implement alternative water supply for the state. Failure to plan for Florida’s water future will surely doom the state to the water wars of the past.
A much-anticipated presentation was given by Melissa Meeker, newly appointed executive director of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) who had assumed her position at the agency on June 1. Prior to that, Meeker served as the Assistant Secretary for Water and Environmental Protection under Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Herschel Vinyard. In addition to outlining her vision and plans for the SFWMD, the content of Meeker’s speech dealt with Governor Rick Scott’s new direction for water management. She referenced the Governor’s April letter to Sec. Vinyard in which he specified his directives for water management including a return to the agencies’ core responsibilities for water supply, flood protection and resource protection – achieved through fiscally responsible efforts that will include real tax cuts for property owners. In addition, the governor intends that the provisions of Florida water law, wherein the Secretary of the DEP will exercise general supervisory authority over the water management districts, will be fully exercised under his administration. The “April” letter also proscribed: no new debt service for the districts; a comprehensive review of regulatory programs including ERPs, CUPs, UMAM and MFLs to ensure streamlining, consistency of approach and application of law and rules among the districts; coordination of land acquisition and coordination of lobbying activities.
Meeker spent considerable time addressing the recently-enacted legislation requiring a 30% reduction in district ad valorem taxes. This will require that districts recommit to the core missions of state water law and eliminate non-mandated projects, programs and non-essential responsibilities. This will also require hard decisions relating to salary, staff and benefit reductions.
Planned revisions to the ERP, CUP and MFLs were outlined, and Meeker stressed the need for public/private partnerships, the creation of “new water,” increased DEP/WMD coordination, addressing WMD cross-boundary issues – wherein the DEP will take the leadership role, the recognition and treatment of reclaimed water as a commodity and greater cooperation between districts and water utilities in managing water for sustainable use.
The Florida Water Forum concluded with an excellent update and overview of one of the state’s most ambitious resource protection programs – Everglades restoration - presented by Ernie Barnett, newly appointed director of the Everglades at the South Florida Water Management District and Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida.