1000 Friends of Florida has grave concern over the serious and dangerous addition being sought by the City of Tampa to HB 639 which addresses wastewater management. We believe this to be but the “first volley” in the war to privatize the waters of our beloved Florida.
The bulk of HB 639 resulted from cooperative negotiation among the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, water management districts and public and wastewater utility systems. While HB 639 has its shortcomings, we are most dismayed about the new Section 1 inserted into the legislation at the behest of the City of Tampa. This new provision serves to limit the definition of “waters in the state” in Florida by exempting domestic wastewater effluent as long as it remains in the pipe.
Even the staff analysis of the bill clearly indicates that at present, effluent is “waters in the state”: “Under current Florida law, reclaimed water is an alternative water source that is included in the statutory definition of ‘water’ or ‘waters in the state.’ Thus, reclaimed water is currently considered a public resource.”
The upshot of the proposed legislation? For the first time a segment of Florida’s waters is being deemed private, to be disbursed to whomever and under whatever conditions the new owner sees fit.
HB 639 thus also renders Florida’s consumptive use permit process a sham. Currently, these permits are given to applicants who demonstrate that the water will be put to a “reasonable-beneficial use,” in such quantity as is necessary for economic and efficient utilization, for a purpose and in a manner which is both reasonable and consistent with the public interest (373.019 F.S.). But with the proposed legislation, water would only have to be run through a public or private (such as Reedy Creek’s) wastewater system and then it could be sold to the highest bidder. As it is estimated that domestic need for water and associated withdrawals will continue to grow, a higher and higher percentage of water would be distributed to whom and for what purpose these owners and operators of treatment plants choose.
Without the benefit of any oversight to protect the public interest, this now privatized water could be used to lubricate new developments while old rural neighborhoods and farms thirst for water, public and private wells suffer from salt-water intrusion, and estuaries turn saline. It’s not hard to envision the time when the citizens of Hillsborough County are forced to pay for a desalination plant to offset the damages resulting from HB 639, while some new city that negotiated a great deal back in 2013 laughs all the way to the bank!
HB 639 also has longer-term policy implications. If the Legislature approves privatization of effluent for the City of Tampa, why not approve it for others who spend hard-earned resources cleaning up their effluent? After investing $20-$100 million for a modern wastewater treatment plant, shouldn’t then a paper mill be entitled to sell its effluent, a phosphate mine finance enormous developments with “its” water, or farmers in the upper Everglades Basin sell treated runoff to a coastal city?
Florida’s Water Law was written to conform to our Constitution, to be flexible, and to survive for the long term. Florida will always need careful planning and permitting to ensure that there is sufficient water for residents, agriculture and the environment. And with changing technologies and demands, it is understood that this process will need to evolve.
But please remember, no water is “new” water. To radically overhaul Florida’s longstanding Water Law to meet the immediate needs of one municipality is both shortsighted and foolhardy. Consolidating regulatory programs makes sense; giving away the farm forever does not.
1000 Friends of Florida opposes SB 639 as currently drafted.