Editor’s note: Since the issue is going out before the start of the session, our coverage only includes bills introduced before Feb. 17, 2021.
Florida’s population is expected to increase by 6 million people by the year 2030. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, Floridians currently use about 6.4 billion gallons of water per day; but that demand is expected to grow to 7.4 billion gallons by 2040. This growing water need, along with other threats like saltwater intrusion and nutrient pollution, pose a threat to the state’s water supply.
Florida’s water resources have been items of importance and concern in state legislature for decades. This year is no different. For example, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22 includes more than “$473 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million for Springs restoration, $145 million for targeted water quality improvements, $40 million for alternative water supply and $25 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide,” according to a press release.
Several bills introduced this session also aim to address the future of Florida’s water resources:
The growing demand for Florida’s water reserves points to the need for smart water resource planning and improved management action plans. Donald Rainey, a regional specialized agent for the Southwest Extension District in the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said that from a conservation standpoint, we need as much water as we can get to support the population in later decades. Florida is going to need new sources for potable, or drinkable, water, he said.
Reclaimed water, or wastewater that has been cleaned and recycled for reuse, is a major component of Florida’s water resources. Currently, the state has approximately 2,000 permitted domestic wastewater facilities to treat water for reuse. Reclaimed water can be used to irrigate golf courses, parks, farms and highway medians; flush toilets and wash cars; and create and restore wetlands. By using reclaimed water for these purposes, more drinking water is available for Floridians.
Water reuse can also reduce the amount of new water withdrawn from groundwater supplies. Additionally, by reusing water for irrigation, fewer nutrients — like those known to feed harmful algal blooms — are discharged directly to surface water and groundwater by wastewater treatment facilities. The nutrients in that irrigated water can even reduce the need for fertilizer. However, “landscape irrigation with reclaimed water must be managed carefully to reduce the potential for eutrophication of water bodies,” according to UF/IFAS.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Florida is the national leader in water reuse, and communities in Florida have utilized 48% of the total domestic wastewater in the state. Both the DEP and the state’s five water management districts regulate the use of reclaimed water.
SB 64, proposed by Florida State Sen. Ben Albritton (R), would:
- Require that domestic wastewater utilities submit a plan for eliminating non-beneficial surface water discharge to the DEP by Nov. 1, 2021. This measure is meant to help maximize the use of reclaimed water as an alternative water supply, according to the staff analysis of the bill. If passed, the plans must be implemented by Jan. 1, 2028. But some exceptions exist for beneficial surface water discharges. For example, if the discharge is associated with a potable reuse project or if it provides benefits like directly recharging a wetland, it may still be permitted. Additionally, if a wastewater utility can prove eliminating discharge completely is financially or technically infeasible, then the plan may still be approved by the DEP.
- Provide a legislative statement that “sufficient water supply is imperative to the future of this state and that potable reuse is a source of water which may assist in meeting future demand for water supply.” The bill also gives the DEP the authority to establish and lead technical advisory groups to coordinate rules for potable reuse. If passed, potable reuse water may not be excluded from regional water supply planning.
- Incentivize the development of potable reuse projects by granting eligibility for expedited permitting and priority funding to private entities from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
- Allow non-potable reclaimed water to be injected into aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells for later use, but only for irrigation purposes. However, these wells must be in the confined aquifer and cannot be located in an area where there are potable water supply wells.
HB 263, introduced by Rep. Randy Maggard (R), is similar to Albritton’s bill. To put it simply, Rainey said, this legislation is looking for ways to increase beneficial uses of reclaimed water so that the drinking water supply is preserved.
“Generally, when we’re talking about reclaimed water, we are looking at conservation efforts to reduce potable water consumption,” Rainey said.
SB 64 also provides incentives for the use of graywater technologies. Graywater is water that has not come into contact with feces, but it has been used for domestic purposes in sinks, showers and washing machines. Technologies can remove traces of dirt, hair, food, and cleaning products from graywater. If passed, the bill would require municipalities to authorize graywater technologies and provide bonuses to developers to offset the costs of implementing such technologies.
Rainey said that the topic of graywater technology has shown up in previous unsuccessful bills, and this bill would need to move forward to provide a statewide mandate for the technology.
UPDATE: SB 64 was enrolled (meaning it was approved by both the House and Senate and sent to the Governor for approval); similar HB 263 was laid on table (meaning it was set aside and died at the end of the session).
“Extreme well stimulation,” is the practice of injecting fluids like water into a rock formation to fracture or dissolve the rock. This act is related to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and is typically performed to produce oil or gas.
SB 546, introduced by Florida State Sen. Gary Farmer Jr. (D) would create the “Stop Fracking Act.” If passed, the bill would prohibit extreme well stimulation in Florida and ban the Department of Environmental Protection from giving permits to perform extreme well stimulations. Under this act, an offense would result in a fine of up to $50,000.
While proponents of fracking point to it resulting in lower energy bills, opponents of fracking highlight its negative impacts on the environment and human health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”
As of 2019, Florida had 35 gas-producing wells, most of which are deep underground, well past aquifers and our porous limestone base. To access the wells, workers drill through the aquifer with cement-encased pipes to prevent toxins from entering the important drinking water source. Improperly placed or rusted pipes or naturally occurring sinkholes could lead to contamination.
“We have to be very careful about what becomes of the water that we use for fracking,” said Mary Lusk, an assistant professor of urban soil and water quality with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “After water has been used for fracking, there is the chance that it could somehow make its way into Florida’s groundwater and contaminate our water supply.”
Though Florida’s water quality is a concern, so is water quantity. This is because billions of gallons of water are required when fracking, Lusk explained.
UPDATE: SB 546 died in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The bills below aim to appropriate, or set aside money for, projects related to water quality and quantity across the state. They include:
- More than $127 million toward septic-to-sewer conversions around the state. Learn more about why changing from septic to sewer can help improve water quality.
- More than $31 million toward stormwater and other water quality improvements around the state.