TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott has a little more than a week to act on the remaining 19 bills from the 2018 legislative session, including a water-related measure drawing fire from environmentalists.
The proposal would allow chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifer, an effort supporters argue is a means to boost the state’s amount of potable water but which critics fear could contaminate Florida's supply of drinking water
The contentious measure is part of a wide-ranging bill (HB 1149) that addresses a variety of water-related issues, including rules regarding rebuilding single-family docks and the operation of the C-51 reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.
The sweeping proposal also directs the state Department of Environmental Protection and regional water management districts to develop rules for reclaimed-water facility projects that require a permit.
Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who sponsored the measure, said any water being pumped into the aquifer must meet clean water drinking standards.
“Reclaimed water can start out as many different kinds of water,” Payne told members of the House Government Accountability Committee in February. “We often have reclaimed water that we use in irrigation. But this water will be sanitized and reused as (to) the drinking water standard.”
The reclaimed water will help combat salt water intrusion into the aquifer, Payne said.
But David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said his group opposed the measure because of the potential long-term negative impact caused by the use of chemicals.
Cullen objected to “stuff we don’t know about” at wastewater treatment plants being used to treat water that would go into the aquifer.
“It’s the Pottery Barn rule,” Cullen said. “You break it, you bought it -- for decades, perhaps generations.”
Rep. Wengay Newton, a Democrat from St. Petersburg who voted against the measure, also worried the proposal could impact the state’s drinking water supply.
“You have people that are at odds because of fracking, because we don’t know the issue with the chemicals that are injected into the ground in that process,” Newton said. “But we’re okay with taking wastewater, mixed in with chemicals, and then deep-well inject it back into the aquifers.”
But Payne said no environmental agency would allow untreated wastewater to be put into the aquifer.
The Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council and the National Waste & Recycling Association are among the groups backing the measure.
Meanwhile, thousands of opponents have signed onto an online petition seeking a veto from Scott, who is expected to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate next week. During appearances in Marathon and Sarasota last week, Scott sought to boost his environmental credentials by touting his administration’s efforts to protect beaches, the Florida Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
Other legislation still awaiting action from Scott include a measure (HB 55) that would allow people buying guns to use credit cards to pay for background checks, something they now can do with a personal check, money order or cashier’s check. Another bill (HB 523) would make it a third-degree felony to trespass on airport property where properly placed signs warn people to stay off the grounds.
The governor has until April 10 to act on the last batch of the 195 bills approved during the 60-day session that ended March 11.
So far, Scott has only vetoed a single bill, a “local” bill that would have expanded the governing board of the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.