Statewide water quality bill poised to pass, amid mixed feelings

Chief Science Office Tom Frazer says water-quality bills advancing in the Legislature are the best in years. Clean-water groups say, that's not saying much and more is necessary to reverse Florida's water crisis. Photo: Ginnie Springs, by Florida Springs Council

Florida lawmakers are poised to adopt water-pollution cleanup legislation described as an historic advance or a weak measure.

The sponsor, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, aimed to put in place recommendations of the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, calling for reductions in pollution sources such as poorly maintained sewer systems, septic tanks, stormwater runoff, and agricultural runoff.

The task force was created to determine why toxic algae blooms are choking lagoons, canals and other waterways in Florida.

Critics said Mayfield’s effort, which began last year, was stripped of its strongest provisions, such as cutting the flow of agricultural pollution into south Florida waterways.

Mayfield is a Republican who represents Brevard and Indian River counties, which have experienced severe water pollution, toxic algae blooms, and fishkills.

Her bill would assist cities in upgrading their sewer and stormwater systems, strengthen regulation of septic tanks, restrict withdrawals from Florida springs for use as bottled water, and require additional reporting of pollutants by agricultural interests.

The House of Representatives was scheduled Monday to hear Mayfield’s bill, which passed the Senate Friday. A similar bill also was standing by for a full House vote.

“This is the first step. We have many steps to go. … We’re able to get started,” said Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat.

“This might be the most important bill we pass in this legislative session. This is a big, big deal,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a north Florida Republican and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

House and Senate budget negotiators reached an agreement over the weekend to provide $625 million for water-quality improvement projects.