Anti-Regulation Wave Engulfs Water Debate

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 27, 2011 --

Hoping to capitalize on the flood of anti-regulation rhetoric in Tallahassee since the inauguration of Gov. Rick Scott, utilities and business groups pushed lawmakers Thursday to loosen the rules in the age-old debate about water management and economic growth.

“It’s a good time to sit back and re-look at some of those regulations,” Patrick Lehman, executive director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, told the House Select Committee on Water Policy during a workshop on the issue. “We’re not saying gut the regulations, but I’m saying they can be streamlined: Are they obstructing the economic growth? Do they protect the public health? Do they protect the environment?”

Representing the environmental lobby on a panel convened by chair Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper took a different tack, defending what has clearly become a favorite whipping post of ruling Republicans in Tallahassee: Government oversight.

“We have a very unusual form of governance in the state of Florida with water management districts, but let’s look at some of the benefits we get from those districts before we take them on too far,” he said. “(They are) very unusual, but they do a fairly good job of managing our water supply, and making sure all these needs are balances, which is what our law actually calls for.”

Draper said he was not just defending the status quo for water regulation, but pressing lawmakers to do more. He argued that even with restrictions from the water districts, Floridians use more water per day, about 150 gallons, than residents in most other states.

“We don’t really have a water supply problem in the state of Florida,” he said. “What we’ve got is a water demand problem, Draper said.

The discussion comes amid recent comments from Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam that redirecting water from northern and rural parts of the state to cities for drinking would create a “civil war” in Florida.

"If we have anybody here from that region, they probably already have one hand on their pistol," said Putnam, who like Draper argues more conservation is needed.

Putnam said he favors novel ways to save water, including locating desalinization plants near newly permitted nuclear facilities and paying private property owners to store surface water on their land to be released when needed.

Likewise, at least one member of the House panel seemed inclined to tinker around the edges, not make wholesale changes. Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, said the current system appears to be working.

“It’s my opinion that we have one of the best and greatest water policy availability tools in the entire country,” he said. “We’re envied by everybody. I think we have the tools in place to meet the needs for the future for the environment, for industry, for agriculture, for public use.”


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