Despite reservations from some members, the Florida House Select Committee on Water Policy yesterday passed state Rep. Dana Young’s bill to redefine reclaimed waters and prohibit water management districts from requiring a permit for their use.

Young, R-Tampa, defended her bill during the committee’s meeting yesterday, arguing that it would “incentivize and optimize” the use of reclaimed water.

As I reported in October, the bill would treat reclaimed water as an “alternative water supply,” rather than as “waters of the state.” Though the bill has the support of the majority of the committee, as well as utility companies, some environmentalists and lawmakers see it as potentially problematic.

Under the bill, 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.

Environmentalists have argued this would make water a commodity, rather than a resource — a sentiment echoed yesterday by state Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville. “Does it then become a commodity?” he asked Young. “Can it be traded, sold or bartered for gain by a utility?”

“There’s not some Wild Wild West scenario where you are selling water to the highest bidder,” Young said. She later clarified her statement, saying that reclaimed water could, in fact, be sold by utility companies to other water users, like golf courses, but that she thought of it as a way for them to recoup their investment, rather than use the water as a moneymaker.

“While it’s not a commodity, it does seem that there is a mechanism by which the groups processing [the reclaimed water] and then putting it toward another use can save some expense on that,” Bembry said.

“Reclaimed water can be sold by the utilities because utilities and local governments make sizable investments of taxpayer dollars,” Young said. “As a taxpayer, I want them to recoup some of that investment. … There is nothing in the bill that prevents the utilities from selling the water — that’s kind of the point. … We want to encourage them to sell this water to golf courses, and to residential developments and to large industrial uses.”

“They could flush it out to tide … but this bill incentivizes it … to make it useful for as many people as possible,” Young said.

State Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, also had reservations about the bill.

“Once we say, ‘This water is yours,’ that’s the problem I’m having with this bill,” he said. “I don’t care if they make a profit. What I care about is giving them carte blanche opportunity to disperse it out of the aquifer. … Water is fast becoming gold in this state and we need to protect that and make sure it’s going back into the aquifer.”

Water is currently at an all-time low in the Suwanee River, a waterbody in Van Zant’s district, and the lawmaker said he fears that Young’s bill could accentuate that. “I don’t call it a ‘reuse,’ I call it a ‘ruse,’” he said.

The Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Audubon of Florida had representatives on hand to express their groups’ opposition to the bill, as written. The groups, however, said they would work with lawmakers to make it more appealing.

Despite reservations from lawmakers, the bill passed the committee 14-1. Van Zant alone voted against it.

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