This week was the first of nine scheduled committee weeks prior to the start of the 2014 Legislative Session.  Committees will meet once a month until the end of the year, and then twice in January three time in February before beginning the regular session on March 4, 2014.   As there are a limited number of bills to consider, this week was dominated by agency presentations, member meetings, and formal fundraising activities.  The following is a brief summary of the environmental and agricultural committee meetings:

Senate Agriculture Committee – The Committee heard presentations on water policies and procedures from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Rich Budell, Director of DACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy talked about the BMP program, articulating the ways in which they contribute to the improvement of water quality such as nutrient, stormwater and irrigation management.  He also indicated that approximately 3.7 million acres of agricultural land have been enrolled in the program, including cow/calf operations (1.9 million acres), row crops (1 million acres), and citrus (580,000 acres), with another 5.54 million acres of forestry lands enrolled. 

Mr. Budell also talked about industry water consumption, with agriculture being the second largest user of fresh water in Florida.  DACS is committed to conservation and its partnership with water management districts to develop alternative water supply projects, and innovative water storage programs on private lands. 

Drew Bartlett, Deputy Secretary of Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, spoke on behalf of the DEP providing information on consumptive use allocations and MFL programs.  He also provided details on the TMDL and BMAP programs, for example, there are 5.98 million watershed acres and 4.53 million people under active basin management with another 1.8 million acres and 800,000 people in pending BMAP areas.  He also spoke about springs protection, indicating that quantity issues are being addressed by 30 MFLs with another 69 MFLs underway, and that quality issues are being addressed with 7 TMDLs covering 339 Springs with another 3 TMDLs covering 49 springs underway.   He briefly covered the DEP’s plan for approximately $37 million in partnership funding commitments.

House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee – The Committee heard a presentation by the DEP on its Petroleum Tank Clean-up Program.    According to the DEP, over $2 billion has been spent on site cleanup since 1987, with 7,100 sites having been remediated.  An additional 3,500 eligible sites are underway and another 6,700 are awaiting clean up.    Although the Legislature appropriated $125 million last session, by proviso, only $50 million was allocated to fund task assignments, work orders and contracts and DEP can only enter into competitively procured contracts after June 30, 2013.  The remaining $75 million is subject to Legislative Budget Commission approval of the DEP’s plan followed by a rulemaking process.    The new plan will require competitive procurement, revised priority ranking and risk assessment, more fiscal accountability, and lower rehabilitation costs, while also addressing the 6,700 site backlog.   

Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin – The Select Committee heard an update from the South Florida Water Management District on the status of the Lake Okeechobee system and proposed short-term solutions, and a presentation on options to slow northerly flows in the Indian River Lagoon by the Kimley-Horn.  Currently, the lake is at 15.76 feet and rising, with inflow at 8,290 c.f.s. and outflow at 3,400 c.f.s.  Mr. Barnett talked about the Hoover Dike, and the Corps’ Major Rehabilitation Report, funding allocations, and the probability of breach (increasing exponentially from 1% at 15 feet, to 45% at 18 feet, to 100% at 21 feet).   Short term project discussions included: directing more water south through alternate operational approaches; public land storage; cutting a new gap in the Tamiami Trail; and vegetation removal (S-12A & B).

Kimley-Horn presented water quality data and aerial photographs of the impacted area, and proposed a mitigation strategy of diluting the leading edge of approximately 7,640 acres of impaired water by pumping seawater from the Atlantic Ocean water.  This would reportedly reduce the impact risk to approximately 2,646 acres of seagrass and minimize the potential for Cyanobacteria blooms.   The project would also include the installation of a number of “Kilroy” water quality samplers to monitor salinity, temperature, flow, and direction.    

Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee – The Committee heard updates from representatives from the DEP and each of the five water management districts on the funding initiatives for springs protection.  In sum, the districts proposed accelerated MFLs development, increased implementation of agricultural BMPs, a more robust Water Quality Credit Trading program, land management efforts to increase water yield, and any opportunities for partnerships.   The Committee also heard the DEP presentation on its Petroleum Tank Clean-up Program.