A once controversial bill that would ban all five state water management districts from forcing cities and utilities to give away treated water has passed both the state House and Senate and is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

Under HB 639 – which was drafted by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, 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.”

The bill was initially controversial, as environmentalists warned it would make reclaimed water a private commodity, shifting control away from water management districts and into the hands of utilities. Proponents argued that it would incentivize the use of reclaimed water.

Eventually, the bill was amended in response to concerns from several environmental groups.

A strike-all amendment (.pdf) adopted by the House State Affairs Committee in February ensures that, in case of an emergency situation, the state can 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.

In February, David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, echoed the sentiments of several like-minded groups when he said he 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.”

The bill was passed by the Senate last Friday, in a 38-0 vote.

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