The Florida Legislature recently approved major water legislation, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Jan. 21, 2016.
The bill creates new water law for "outstanding Florida springs," including timelines for the adoption of minimum flows, identifying spring "protection zones," and cleanup and recovery objectives. Rulemaking by state agencies will begin once the bill becomes law. The rulemaking will, among other things, address the flows needed to protect springs, methods to clean up springs and uniform regulations for the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI). The CFWI is a regional water-supply planning effort involving the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the St. Johns River Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), and regional water utilities.
The bill designates FDEP as having the final responsibility for meeting Lake Okeechobee water quality objectives. The bill also furthers the establishment of management plans for farming around Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and inland portions of the Caloosahatchee River watershed, and the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
Finally, the bill requires the Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) to provide an annual assessment of the state's water resources and conservation lands.
Certain environmental groups expressed opposition and had urged Gov. Scott to veto the bill. However, that was considered unlikely due to widespread support in the business community and the level of importance provided by the House and Senate.
The bill will become law on July 1, 2016.