Scott signs watered-down water bill
by Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed into law a measure that makes it easier for cities and counties to use reclaimed water, but includes changes sought by environmental groups to ensure the state will maintain control over the resource.
Scott approved the measure (HB 639) without its most controversial section, which was removed from the bill by lawmakers during the session.
That provision would have exempted reclaimed water from the definition of “state waters.” The designation is significant because Florida statutes say the state is responsible for managing state waters, which are considered a basic public resource. If that section had remained, it would have essentially allowed private entities to “own” treated water.
The provision was struck from the bill during early committee hearings. The watered-down bill then traveled through the chambers with little, if any, opposition.
Officials in the Tampa Bay area had requested changes to state law that would give them more flexibility in the use of reclaimed water without having to go through the consumptive use permit process. Rep. Dana Young (R-Tampa) sponsored the bill.
After talks with environmental groups, Young agreed to strike the exemption, a move that brought accolades from critics.
“Once that provision was taken out of the bill, we didn’t have major problems with it,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said Tuesday.
Statewide, about 660 million gallons of reclaimed water is being used every day for a range of purposes, from phosphate mining and electricity generation to golf course watering.
The amount equals about half of the state’s available resource.
What was once seen as a waste product, reclaimed water has become increasingly critical to residential and commercial development as the price of potable water increases and districts tighten regulations to ensure long-term availability.