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Get Serious about Water Use with a Comprehensive Policy

March 29, 2015 - 6:00pm

Florida legislators have a choice on a key piece of legislation this year: Do something that makes sense or do something supported by the left.

It concerns the implementation of Amendment 1, approved by voters last year, which dedicated revenue to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites ...

Nothing in it says the state must continue snapping up private land right and left.

State, local and federal governments already own 28 percent of Florida. That means only 72 percent of the land is on the tax rolls, while the remainder has to be maintained at considerable cost. There were reportedly 485 state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, preserves and other environmental and cultural management units in Florida in 2006.

Yet, there are special interests that advocate using all of the available revenue to buy more land.

Fortunately, there is a group that has the best interests of taxpayers in mind. The H2O Coalition of Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) advocates also using money from the trust fund to address water needs throughout the state.

According to AIF President Tom Feeney, Florida faces a daily shortfall of more than 1 billion gallons within 15 years unless sensible policies are put into place, preserving supplies and managing distribution, preferably at a regional level rather than from Tallahassee.

South Florida has problems from encroachment on the Everglades.

The Tampa Bay area has had water wars and homeowners have strict use restrictions.

In North Florida, there is concern about the diversion of water coming into the state from Georgia.

Continuing to spend billions on land buying will not solve such problems.

Florida is blessed with large supplies of fresh water. Using those supplies intelligently will delay the day when the state has to increase the use of expensive saltwater distillation for residential and agricultural uses.

As for whether the Legislature may consider uses other than land purchasing, the Florida Supreme Court said the Legislature has complete discretion as to the allocation among the broad conservation purposes defined in the Conservation Amendment.

About $757 million is expected to be in the fund. Gov. Rick Scott proposes spending $150 million for the Everglades, $50 million for springs, $25 million to improve Florida beaches and $17.5 million for wastewater programs in the Florida Keys. It designates $197 million for land acquisition and management, which some contend is not enough. They want to continue the insane rate of land-buying that existed in the past, which in the 1990s was $300 million per year.

How to spread the available funding around while actually accomplishing something is the issue. A bill passed by the House addresses the policy issues comprehensively. The appropriations bill will be the vehicle for the actual allocation of funds.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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