The Florida legislative session ended last Friday without passage of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. In spite of strong organizing by citizens and environmental groups, and unanimous support in the Senate, even the watered down version from Agricultural, industrial and Florida Chamber of Commerce interests failed to move forward in the Florida House. Although the legislation would have provided the water protection that Florida desperately needs today, outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford decided to punt it to next year’s session and into the lap of incoming House Speaker, Steve Crisafulli. As Estus Whitfield, environmental advisor to Governors Graham, Martinez, Chiles and Bush quips in his column in the Tampa Bay Times, “Just be glad the Legislature doesn’t control your local fire department or you might be told that your burning house can’t be saved because the next shift really wants to fight the fire.”
Despite this loss, advocates for healthy Florida waters don’t need to wait until next year to take action. As Tom Swihart from the Watery Foundation writes, there are key parts of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection act that could be implemented by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. FDEP has the power to make many of the changes in the bill right now, under a Governor who is truly committed to water protection. Unfortunately, Scott has only paid lip service to water improvements by asking already-strapped local governments to foot the bill.
GRN has been calling for the formation of a broad-based stakeholder group to create and implement a comprehensive long term water policy for Florida. But the well-orchestrated stalling by Weatherford and Scott demonstrates the power of Political Action Committees with extreme views against environmental protection. We will have to find a way to move beyond the financially mighty so that water advocates and small farmers can sit down together and discover what we have in common - we all need water, and we all need food. It’s time to work together.
Water is precious and finite. It’s polluted and it’s disappearing. But there is hope for cleaning and protecting Florida springs and rivers, our aquifer and our estuaries—if we have the faith and the will to see it through. These are not political issues, they’re human values.
Cathy Harrelson is GRN's Florida Organizer.