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Legislation takes statewide view on water needs

1st comprehensive water policy passed in years

WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. – Water policy in Florida took a step forward at the state Capitol Wednesday after the Legislation made it clear that money set aside by voters in Amendment 1 will not be used to repair local water supply and sewer pipes.

One of the major differences from what passed Wednesday and previous efforts is that Wednesday's legislation takes a statewide view of water needs, where past efforts have focused on individual problem areas. 

Wakulla Springs in North Florida hasn't been able to run glass bottom boat tours for more than a year, and only sporadically over the last few years, all because the once pristine spring just isn't clear enough.

"The Sierra Club wants this bill to work," said Dave Cullen, with Sierra Club.

The House State Affairs Committee took a step forward at solving the problem at Wakulla and other springs. It passed the first comprehensive water policy legislation in years.

"We've got oysters that are dying, springs that are suffering (and) a Kissimmee River basin that needs more help," said Rep. Mark Pafford.

The legislation doesn't put a cost on the water cleanup regulations, and that is concerning to environmentalists who pushed Amendment 1 to set aside millions for land and water conservation.

"Certainly, springs protection the last couple years, while the legislature provided additional funding, it's been very incremental and really inadequate to get the job done, so I'm confident that progress will be made," said Janet Bowman, with Nature Conservancy.

Since November, some lawmakers have pushed the idea of using conservation money to repair leaky sewer and pipes. The legislation approved Wednesday said no to state money for leaky pipes.

"This bill, however, does not transfer to the state the responsibility for waste water and storm water, and says those are going to be local responsibilities," said Eric Draper, with Audubon Florida.

The multi-million dollar question on how much Florida is going to be willing to spend on cleanup and conservation won't be known for months, but there is general agreement the first step is a positive one.