Governor Ron DeSantis spoke out against Senate Bill 2508 (SB 2508) on Thursday morning, claiming that the move would sidetrack his efforts in reducing hazardous discharge output as well as increasing the likelihood of toxic algae blooms in downstream estuaries.
But Republicans in the Florida Senate say that’s not the case, and point to language in the bill that would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enter into agreements with public entities to expedite the evaluation of environmental resource permits related to projects or activities that serve a public purpose, while also requiring the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to certify before the release of state funds, that its recommendations to the U.S. Army Core of Engineers do not diminish the quantity of water available to legal users.
In effect, supporters say, the bill protects Florida’s water rights from federal overreach. Additional provisions would ensure the agriculture industry gets its necessary water levels at times when Lake Okeechobee’s water levels drop.
DeSantis’s reaction appears to be driven by an analysis by environmental activists in South Florida.
“I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades. Moreover, I reject any attempt to deprioritize the EAA Reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee,” said DeSantis. “Rather than advancing legislation seeking to affect a major change in policy, SB 2508 is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.”
Some local business owners echoed DeSantis’ sentiments during a Wednesday committee hearing, where the bill ultimately passed at a margin of 16 ‘yeas’ to 4 ‘nays.’
“The management of water in our state is of the utmost importance for all of Florida. It is our most precious natural resource and our lives depend on clean and well-managed water for all of Florida. The changes made decades ago as to how Mother Nature intended water to flow through the ‘river of grass’ has resulted in devastating impacts on our state. It is our responsibility to right the wrongs of the past,” said local family hardware and grocery owner Richard Johnson. “Our environment is our economy. During Gov. DeSantis’ administration, we have worked together with stakeholders across the state to ensure that everyone gets most of what they need. It is important that these changes to our water management do not come at catastrophic damages that we have seen in the past. I respectfully ask that you vote ‘no’ at this time.”
But supporters say the bill would directly benefit Florida’s water supply, including drinking water for millions of people who live along Florida’s east coast.
Thanks to the bipartisan group of FL Senators for supporting #SB2508, which prioritizes safe drinking water for nearly 130,000 residents, customers and visitors to our city & the towns of Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. @LeaderBookFL @SenAudrey2eet @Kathleen4SWFL @RepAlbritton
— City of West Palm Beach (@westpalmbch) February 10, 2022
“We stand in support of Senate Bill 2508. Water is a key component of everything from manufacturing, to agriculture, to tourism, and plays an important role in the daily lives of millions across Florida. Out members, municipalities, and especially those located in south Florida that hold permits with the South Florida Water Management District have concerns about potential water management plans that reduce the state’s current level controls to infringe on Florida’s well-established state allocation rights,” said Vice President of State Affairs for Consumer Energy Alliance Kevin Doyle. “Any change to the state’s current ability to provide permitted users with the water they are legally required to receive under existing state statutes could cause significant harm.”
Senator Ben Albritton, the sponsor of the bill, stood in support of the legislation. “I believe that asking for more accountability from an agency that receives 70% of their budget from the state is good government.”