Water use plan advances, growth plan stuck

A proposal that creates better use of water and pollution control has wide support while a growth management bill is mired in differences on funding.

Published May 3, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - While a plan to tighten Florida's growth management laws is struggling to pass the Florida Legislature, a proposal to improve planning for water use is quietly moving forward.

The bill requires that local governments have enough water to serve new development and gives the state new power to control pollution, especially runoff from lawns and parking lots. It also creates strong incentives for developing alternative water sources.

"We think this is a very historic bill," said Eric Draper, policy director of Audubon of Florida.

It also has the support of a wide range of interests because business groups and environmentalists have been negotiating the details for about two years.

"It's cooked a lot longer," said Janet Bowman, legal director of 1000 Friends of Florida.

The larger growth management bill is a different story.

With the 2005 Legislature in its closing days, the House postponed a growth management vote Monday because of disagreements with the Senate, said Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, the bill's sponsor.

The Senate, meanwhile gave its growth management bill preliminary approval. The two chambers are divided over how to pay for new roads and other facilities.

The House wants to use matching funds, including about $450-million for roads, to encourage local governments to pay their share of the state's needs, Johnson said. The Senate is sticking to its plan to allow counties to increase local option sales taxes without voter approval, which the House opposes.

One previous sticking point was resolved when the House moved closer to the Senate's stricter requirement on the lag between new roads and new development.

This year's water legislation goes further than a bill sponsored last year by Rep. David Russell, R-Brooksville, because it requires local governments to include the long-term water supply plans of their water management districts in their comprehensive plans.

"This is the real deal," Russell said.

Audubon's Draper praised provisions dealing with cleaning up pollution.

The state, Draper said, has little power to clean up land that allows contaminated runoff to flow into bodies of water - including parts of Tampa Bay. The most common pollutants are fertilizers.

The bill allows the state to give polluters a chance to contain and clean their runoff and provides rules on how to accomplish that. Following the rules would immunize property owners from penalties or lawsuits.

That immunity is why several business groups support the bill, said Chuck Littlejohn, a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "We think this is reasonable," he said.

The groups also like provisions encouraging alternative sources because it means water will be available for growth, Draper said.

The bill includes $200-million next year and $100-million a year after that in matching funds for water suppliers and water management districts to develop alternative sources.