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The Importance of the Clean Waterways Act

In the 2020 legislative session, SB 712 (The Clean Waterways Act) was passed outlining protection to much of Florida’s vast water resources, including implementing Florida TaxWatch recommendations for the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Water is Florida’s most valuable resource, providing many environmental, economic, and recreational benefits the public. With more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers, more than 1,000 springs, and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, it is a staple of Florida’s identity and one of the key reasons so many people visit the Sunshine State.  The Clean Waterways Act addresses several environmental issues, including several provisions focused on water quality improvement and oversight.

The bill improves oversight of septic tanks, encourages septic-to-sewer conversions, updates stormwater and biosolid rules, sets limits on leaks from sewer pipes, and more. This bill is a complement to another that focuses on funding the restoration and protection of many of Florida’s water resources. With the focus on water quality and restoration, Florida can expect to see many positive economic impacts.

Proximity to water, a view of water, and the quality of water are all top attributes sought out by homebuyers, and as such, the pollution of freshwater resources can have a negative effect on property values for homes near the bodies of water. One study examining property values in Lee and Martin counties between 2010 and 2014 found that when water quality dropped following discharges from Lake Okeechobee, property values dropped by a total of $1 billion between the two counties.[1] Homes that are in close proximity to clean water sources have seen an increase in home value of up to 25 percent.[2] It is clear that state and local taxes benefit heavily from good water quality, through tourist spending, property taxes, and overall economic growth.

Not only does environmental restoration protect our waterways and reduce pollution, but the new projects and oversight increase economic activity and create jobs. These jobs are created from industries that benefit from cleaner and more abundant water like tourism and fishing, and also from the oversight and restoration projects themselves. One study found that environmental restoration activities contribute to economic growth and employment, creating as many as 33 jobs for every $1 million invested.[3] Similarly, projects that were a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed in the wake of the Great Recession, produced 17 jobs per $1 million spent, not including long-term jobs created from rebuilt fisheries and tourism.

Investing in our environment and reducing pollution has been incredibly beneficial for Florida in the past and will continue with the Clean Waterways Act.

Bill Summary:[4]

Septic Systems: The bill transfers the Onsite Sewage Program from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) starting in 2021 and creates a temporary septic technical advisory committee within DEP; requires local governments to create septic remediation plans for certain basin management action plans (BMAPs) and requires DEP to implement a fast track approval process for NSF/ANSI 245 nutrient reducing septic systems and revises provisions relating to septic system setback rules.

Wastewater Treatment: The bill requires local governments to create wastewater treatment plans for certain BMAPs and authorizes different cost options for projects that meet pollution reduction requirements; creates a wastewater grant program that allows DEP to provide grants for projects within BMAPs, alternative restoration plans, or rural areas of opportunity that will reduce excess nutrient pollution; prioritizes funding for certain wastewater projects in the grant program, the State Revolving Loan Fund Program, and the Small Community Sewer Construction Assistance Program; prohibits, beginning July 1, 2025, wastewater treatment facilities from discharging into the Indian River Lagoon without providing advanced waste treatment and imposes new requirements on wastewater facilities and DEP to prevent sewer overflows and underground pipe leaks.

Stormwater: The bill requires DEP to update its stormwater design and operation rules and Environmental Resource Permit Applicant’s Handbook; make revisions to its local pollution control staff training; evaluate the self-certification process for the construction, alteration, and maintenance of a stormwater management system; and revise the model stormwater management program.

Agriculture: requires the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to perform onsite inspections at least every 2 years of agricultural producers enrolled in best management practices (BMPs); creates a cooperative agricultural regional water quality improvement element as part of a BMAP in areas where agriculture is a significant source of pollution; requires DACS, in coordination with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and other academic institutions, to annually develop research plans and legislative budget requests to address agricultural runoff.

Biosolids: The bill requires enrollment in DACS’s BMP program and prohibits the application of Class A or Class B biosolids within 6 inches of the seasonal high water table, unless a nutrient management plan and water quality monitoring plan provide reasonable assurances that the application will not cause or contribute to water quality violations. Permits will have to comply with the statute within two years and with DEP’s biosolids rule within two years of it becoming effective. The bill allows local governments to keep existing biosolids ordinances.

Other: All fines for wastewater violations are doubled and other penalties are increased and assessed by DEP. DEP is required to establish a real-time water quality monitoring program. DEP is also required to conduct a study on the water bottle industry in the state. The bill prohibits local governments from providing legal rights to any plant, animal, body of water, or other part of the natural environment unless otherwise specifically authorized by state law or the State Constitution. The bill also requires DEP to work with UF/IFAS to consider the adoption by rule of BMPs for nutrient impact from golf courses.

 

[1] “The Impact of Water Quality on Florida’s Home Values.” (March 2015). Florida Realtors

[2] United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa. gov/nutrientpollution/effects-economy

[3] Defining and evaluating the ecological restoration economy, Todd K. BenDor, Avery Livengood, T. William Lester, Adam Davis. Logan Yonavjak, Restoration Ecology Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 209–219, May 2015.

[4] 2020 Summary of Legislation Passed: SB712 Environmental Resource Management

Author: Kirby Allen

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