With the federal government recently expanding the state’s control over local water standards, a measure is advancing quickly in the Legislature to have the Florida Department of Environmental Protection establish the new water criteria.
The House State Affairs Committee agreed Wednesday to push a bill supported by some of the state’s most influential business advocates that would have the DEP set new water standards that must be in place by the end of next year.
Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said the bill is intended to help improve waterways, but will also help Florida’s economy.
“We can’t go back to where we were in this state 125 years ago, we can’t do it,” Albritton said. “But we can certainly take this time right now to draw a line in the sand, make sure that we stand up as a state, we can handle our own issues, we can deal with our own challenges, and make the future the best we can.”
Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, expressed concerns about the potential impact of the standards, but supported the proposal saying the DEP needs to get to work.
“We just can’t wait around and have debate after debate and not accomplish anything,” Stewart said.
On Friday, DEP announced it had reached a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that expands upon the November agreement that gives the state power to set nitrogen and phosphorus levels in most of the state’s coastal streams, estuaries and rivers, including the Intracoastal Waterway.
The environmental community, with the group EarthJustice fighting the deal in federal court, hasn’t embraced the EPA-DEP agreement.
David Cullen, the lobbyist for the Sierra Club of Florida, told committee members Wednesday that the bill allows too much pollution, and won’t adequately protect Florida waters from sewage, manure and fertilizer.
“If traffic rules were written like this, it would be a miracle that anyone ever got a speeding ticket,” Cullen said.
The Legislature has until Dec. 1, 2014 to approve the agreement that now gives the state control over 98.9 percent of the bodies of water in Florida, with the remaining waterways still under review to determine the needed standards.
Drew Bartlett, the DEP director of the Division of Environmental Assessment, said workshops will begin next month for new standards on different water bodies, with the goal of having new levels set by the end of September.
“Our (standards) will go into effect when we’re certain that there aren’t federal criteria on the books,” Bartlett said.
by Jim Turner