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Guest Commentary: ‘Water Policy Bill’ undermines water resource protection

By Staff | Feb 10, 2016

During the 2016 State legislative session, Representative Matt Caldwell (R) sponsored a new ‘Water Policy Bill’, recently signed by Governor Rick Scott, that undermines water resource protection from Appalachacola bay to the Florida Keys.

The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source and is silent on enhancing sound water conservation practices.

The replacement of the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards to address potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries with the sole reliance on ineffective Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) will lead to a reactive, ineffective and costly approach to management of the state’s water resources.

BMAP’s only go into effect after water bodies are severely polluted, with the costs paid by taxpayers, instead of those responsible for the pollution.

The Water bill also delays Lake Okeechobee clean up by eliminating a January 2015 deadline -which the state didn’t meet – for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline.

More than 400 tons of phosphorus enter the lake each year and the state was supposed to reduce it to 105 tons.

Water quality is under the purview of the state, so it is incumbent upon the state to enact proactive measures to restore Lake Okeechobee and downstream rivers and estuaries with timely enforceable deadlines for compliance.

Weakening of state water management policy coupled with the refusal by the Governor and legislature to use Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for critical storage, treatment and conveyance of water to the Everglades.

It is a recipe for the type of disastrous impacts to our waterways such as the recent excessive discharge of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee carrying insecticides, fungicides, pesticides and fertilizers, backed pumped into the lake from surrounding sugarcane fields, resulting in continued deterioration of water quality, harmful algae blooms and fish kills.

Representative Caldwell is developing a track record of sponsoring legislation that compromises our water resources and placing an inordinate burden on the backs of the public taxpayers to clean up our impaired waterways from industrial and agricultural pollution.

In fact, during the 2013 legislative session, Representative Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act under the guise of increasing the sugar industries funding commitment to Everglades restoration when in fact his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry was able to limit their long term obligation to fund Everglades restoration.

HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of pollution runoff to the Everglades, as well as the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries and amounts to approximately $11 million per year.

A truly insignificant sum in contrast to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Furthermore, Caldwell’s amended language displaced the “1996 Polluters Pay” Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to have to clean up their pollution.

Representative Caldwell’s reprehensible behavior is symptomatic of many politicians in office today that have abandoned their community and ethical standards in favor of special interest groups that have corrupted government with their insidious influence on elected officials.

What used to be government of the people, by the people and for the people has severely eroded to a system that is governed by self serving interests with immense wealth to ensure their hand picked politicians control the political process to the detriment of the public.

An open and effective representative form of government can only prevail if people act responsibly and exercise their right to vote and demand accountability and honesty from their elected officials.

Silence is consent.

-Ray Judah is a former Lee County Commissioner and long-time environmental activist.