The House State Affairs Committee passed a much-debated reclaimed water bill today — this time, with the go-ahead from environmental groups. Though it has been met with reservations by some lawmakers in the past, House Bill 639 was much less contentious today, in large part due to an amendment offered by the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.
Under Young’s bill, which was drafted in consultation with state water management districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, utility companies would still have to obtain a Consumptive Use Permit from a local water management district but, once they draw the water and use it, it would be theirs and no longer subject to additional permitting.
Young has long maintained that the bill would provide local governments with the “regulatory certainty and predictability they need.”
But environmental groups worried that the bill could essentially privatize reclaimed water — making it a commodity rather than resource — and could take it out of the jurisdiction of state regulatory agencies, like the Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s various water management districts.
A strike-all amendment (.pdf) that was adopted by the committee today would ensure that, in case of an emergency situation, the state could secure emergency measures from the governor. The amendment also makes clear that the bill does not impair water management districts’ authority over water supply planning, rate-setting requirements or the regulation of water quality.
As Young put it, the strike-all essentially “reflects the consensus position of stakeholders.”
David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said his group supports the amendment, but remains neutral on the bill. “You don’t get everything you want in a compromise,” he said, adding that the group’s “most serious concerns” had been addressed. “We are able to live with this.”
Representatives from the Nature Conservancy and Audubon of Florida also voiced support for the amendment.
As Audubon’s Mary Jean Yon put it, there is a “shared belief that reclaimed water is an important component of Florida’s water supply.”
Utility groups, like Jacksonville’s JEA, also touted their support for the bill. The lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida, which has been silent on the bill up until today, also gave its full support.