Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Monday that Florida lawmakers must approve a water-policy plan floated last spring to avoid the types of shortages being experienced in California.
Putnam, warning of “dark clouds on the horizon” at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum, also spoke of the need to further improve educational options in the state and for a third natural-gas pipeline to be built to further diversify the state’s energy sources.
But the initial focus of his speech was the need to establish new water policies for a state that will “face over a 1-billion-gallon-a-day shortfall by 2030.” And the way to do that, he said, is to approve water policies outlined in a bill (HB 7003) that died when the House abruptly ended the regular legislative session in April.
Putnam said lawmakers need to close the remaining “minor” differences in their water proposals as a way to maintain the quality of life in Florida and plan future economic opportunities.
“The House, the Senate have worked very hard throughout the last year to close a big gap between their two ideas, and we’re on the goal line,” Putnam said at the two-day forum held at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. “We need your help to punch it across the goal line this year. This session. Not to monkey with it. Not to go back and litigate fights that were resolved last session. Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. Let’s pass the bill we have this year, this session so that we can move on to all the other economic-development issues that our state faces.”
The House water proposal, which had backing from the state’s agriculture industry and influential business groups, failed to get approval from the Senate, where members had their own ideas about changing the state’s water policies to meet the demands of a voter-approved constitutional amendment about land and water conservation.
The Senate moved closer to the House’s proposed expansion of best-management practices — such as advanced stormwater management, erosion controls and specific fertilizing procedures — beyond the 470,000-acre farming region south of Lake Okeechobee to all lands around Lake Okeechobee and the state’s natural springs.
But as the session was scuttled, the Senate reaffirmed its support, in a 39-1 vote, to include two measures that had been opposed by the House —a pedestrian trail network backed by Senate President Andy Gardiner and an oversight council to rate potential water projects.
Gardiner, R-Orlando, said at the time that the council would provide spending oversight of money from Amendment 1, the ballot initiative supported by 75 percent of voters in 2014. The initiative requires 33 percent of the proceeds from a real-estate tax to go for land and water maintenance and acquisition,
Putnam said the key parts of the proposed legislation will help avoid local governmental fights over water rights that dominated regions in the 1980s and that could impact business development and recruitment to Florida.
“You can’t expect world class attractions in Orlando to put billions of dollars into their parks if they don’t know whether they’re going to get an allocation for their newest water based features,” Putnam said. “You can’t expect to bring in a Boeing, a Mercedes, whatever shiny economic-development prize that we want, if there is some question about whether the most fundamental element in economic development will be available to them.”