TALLAHASSEE, FL. (WTXL) - The House's business-friendly approach to protecting Lake Okeechobee has been added to the Senate's plan for new water policies for the state.
The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved changes to its version of the water policy bill (SB 918), which is deemed stronger by environmentalists for the state's natural springs.
The Senate proposal, which also seeks to develop a statewide trail system and increase public access to conservation lands for recreation, is more project-focused than the House plan, which was approved in a 106-9 vote on the third day of the legislative session.
The water-policy proposals, while backed by many legislators, are considered separate from a voter-approved requirement to increase spending on water and land projects in the Senate and House budgets.
Committee Chairman Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican who is sponsoring the water-policy bill, said his proposal is still a work in progress.
"There is no perfection in this bill or anybody else's bill," Dean said. "We will consider anything that is doable and desirable and manageable and is open and transparent."
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, issued a release Tuesday saying the amended bill reflects the "commitment that the House and Senate would work together to develop a statewide water and natural resources policy for Florida."
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, has said if the House and Senate can't find common ground on water policy this year, they'll try again in 2016.
In addition to including the House policy changes to impose what are known as "best management practices" for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, the Senate added a House provision to require water-management districts to implement a water-management plan across Central Florida.
The South Florida waterway proposals drew opposition from environmental groups that would like stronger measures in place to reduce pollution from entering and exiting Lake Okeechobee.
Anna Upton of the Everglades Foundation said the plans are incomplete without "clear cut" enforcement and need firm deadlines for water quality improvement.
"It does little to move Florida forward to actually improving water quality," Upton said of the amended bill.
Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues, said the proposal at best would reduce the nearly 450 metric tons of phosphorus that annually goes into the lake by about 100 metric tons, rather than lowering the pollutants to 100 metric tons a year.
Environmentalists contend that "best management practices" are simply guidelines that fail to mandate needed improvements.
The "BMPs" are favored by business and agricultural interests, which continue to express concerns with the Senate plan for maintaining protection zones for the state's natural springs.
"While this bill is moving in the right direction, we have serious reservations about the springs component of the bill, which is based on untested science, adds additional layers of regulations, and provides no real environmental benefits," Brewster Bevis of Associated Industries of Florida, said in a prepared statement after the meeting.
The protection zones would regulate the impact of septic tanks and the flow of storm water and agricultural runoff into those water bodies.