Chief science officer defends water-quality bills that critics argue are deeply flawed

Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer on Thursday defended his praise of water-quality legislation that environmentalists say is designed to fail and protects polluters.

Florida Chief Science Office Tom Frazer. Credit: LinkedIn photo.

“I stand by my statement [published in the Sarasota Bradenton-Herald] that SB 712 is one of the most progressive and comprehensive pieces of legislation that we have seen in over a decade,” Frazer said in remarks issued by his office.

“SB 712 addresses a broad suite of nutrient sources that affect Florida’s water quality – including septic tanks, wastewater, agriculture, and stormwater. This legislation is a step forward on every front.”

The Florida Phoenix wrote Wednesday that clean water groups asked Frazer to “set the record straight.”

In a joint letter released Wednesday, the Florida Springs Council, Florida Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club of Florida critiqued SB 712, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican who represents parts of Brevard and Indian River counties, calling it “well intentioned” but “deeply flawed.” Similar legislation is sponsored in the House by Rep. Bobby Payne, a north-central Florida Republican.

The clean-water group offered 12 pages of evidence and technical notes recommending ways to strengthen the legislation. The material reflects a package of amendments the group offered to the bill sponsors and urged them to adopt. They noted that many of the recommendations are based on provisions that Mayfield sponsored last year but which were stripped out by special interests.

The Phoenix requested a response from Frazer on Wednesday afternoon. He responded later that evening.

In the response, he praised the water-quality bills this year because they would require, for the first time:

/That wastewater facilities have power-outage contingency plans to minimize spills resulting from power loss.

/That sanitary sewage disposal facilities provide financial records to state regulators to prove that funds are used appropriately for infrastructure upgrades, repairs, and maintenance to ensure that systems do not fall into disrepair.

/On-site inspections of agricultural operations at least every two years and collection of fertilizer records to ensure compliance with best management practices.

/An update of stormwater rules and design criteria to achieve improved performance of stormwater systems statewide.

/The water-quality organizations insist those provisions will not stop major polluters from discharging pollution at levels that will continue to foul waterways and fuel toxic algae blooms, red tide and fish kills.

Frazer’s office said he is reviewing the group’s critique and will respond more fully in the near future.