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Miller changing vote on aquifer

Tampa Democratic Sen. Les Miller will say no to the plan to store tainted water in Florida's underground supply.

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001


Tampa Democratic Sen. Les Miller will say no to the plan to store tainted water in Florida's underground supply.

TALLAHASSEE -- Stung by criticism over his vote to pump tainted water into Florida's underground water supplies, Tampa Democratic Sen. Les Miller on Thursday said he plans to switch his vote to no.

Miller touched off controversy last week when he said: "I don't believe we're going to do anything to contaminate the water. If we do, I'll be the first one to apologize."

He said he has been barraged with e-mails and letters from constituents.

"I've heard the voice of my constituents and the voice of people who care about the environment. I firmly believe that this legislative body will do nothing to harm the waters of this state, but we shouldn't take the risk," Miller said at a news conference arranged by environmentalists.

Miller said he was under the impression, when he voted for the measure last week, that a similar system is operating in Tampa. But there is a big difference.

"They treat the water first. I wasn't aware of that," Miller said.

For the first time, Florida is proposing a plan to relax drinking-water standards and allow water tainted with bacteria and fecal coliform, which comes from human and animal waste, to be pumped underground. The water would be stored in the rainy season and pumped during the dry season to feed thirsty cities and help in the restoration of the Everglades.

Critics say it could foul drinking water. Proponents say the bacteria and coliform will die off, although many scientists have questioned that assumption.

Miller said he will offer an amendment that would allow the so-called aquifer storage and recovery wells to go forward only if the water is treated before it goes into the Floridan Aquifer.

The measure is set to come up in the Senate, possibly next week. Last time it came before the Senate, seven senators voted no and 29 voted yes. In the House, the vote was 74-40.

Gov. Jeb Bush supports the plan. If the measure passes and the bill becomes law, it will be up to the administration of the governor's brother, President George W. Bush, to approve or reject it. That's because Florida would have to ask for an official waiver of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Two other Democratic lawmakers from the bay area came to the news conference to speak against the bill: Tampa Rep. Arthenia Joyner and Lutz Rep. Sara Romeo.

"I'm hopeful there are other senators who will take another look at this," Romeo said. "We cannot risk the natural resource that we can't live without."

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