League of Cities takes aim at FL crisis in water quality and supply

Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida’s water needs this decade will grow by 20 percent and remediation of drinking water infrastructure will cost $18 billion, making water resources a top legislative priority for the Florida League of Cities, an advocacy organization representing more than 400 cities and towns.

Rebecca O’Hara, the league’s deputy general counsel, told reporters this week that Florida faces a “water quality crisis and water supply deficiencies” that must be addressed now to meet future water needs for human consumption, wastewater treatment, agriculture and environmental sustainability.

“This need is gigantic,” O’Hara said, calling for “a comprehensive and need-based assessment” of Florida’s water needs and a plan to secure funding to improve quality and expand capacity at the state, regional and local levels.

She said the state’s approach to water management is too often political and based on “crisis management” rather than being based on identified needs, objective criteria and intergovernmental partnerships and coordination.

O’Hara cited reports by the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave Florida a “C” grade for potable water infrastructure and estimated the cost of improvements and expansion at $18 billion.

She said the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment reports that Florida needs $22 billion of improvements in wastewater infrastructure this year. And a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report in 2018 cited 1,700  water sources impaired for water quality.

Further, Florida must plan for having too much water in one place at one time.  The league says $69 billion of coastal property is at risk of flooding at high tide by the end of this decade, an estimate cited in a 2015 “Risky Business Project” climate risk assessment for the Southeast.

O’Hara said the League of Cities estimates Florida will need more than $48 billion of improvements over the next 20 years to meet needs for drinking water, wastewater, flood control, nutrient pollution, Everglades restoration, and beach and inlet erosion.

Sen. Ben Albritton, Republican from south-central Florida, and Rep. Kristin Diane Jacobs, Democrat from Broward County, are sponsoring legislation (SB 690 and HB 147) authorizing the needs assessment and requiring a report to the governor and Legislature every five years.