Sunday, January 29, 2012

Water rights shift in Florida could foreshadow debates to come

Jim Malewitz in the Bellingham Herald (Florida): Is reclaimed water a basic public resource or a privately manufactured product? That's the question before the Florida legislature this session, as it decides how to classify the state's large supply of wastewater that's treated and used again, often for lawn irrigation or recharging aquifers.

Environmentalists are nervous as lawmakers prepare to enact the largest overhaul to state water law in 40 years, changing the state's very definition of water. Current Florida law subjects all state waters to permitting based upon "beneficial use" in the public interest. But the bill up for debate would exclude reclaimed water from "waters of the state," granting sole ownership of the resources to the utilities that produce it. Many of these utilities are public entities, but some are privately owned.

Under the bill, state water management districts could not dictate how reclaimed water is used, even during an emergency shortage. Backed by several powerful interest groups, the bill appears destined to become law. Supporters say the overhaul would protect Florida's dwindling water supply by incentivizing production and use of reclaimed water through eased restrictions.

"Local governments need the certainty," says state Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who teamed up with city representatives to write the bill. "If they build the system, they need guarantees that they can use the water as they see fit." But environmentalists describe the shift as a business-friendly legislature's attempt to erode state water protections, placing much of the resource in the hands of private interests....

Blue Hole in National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key, Florida. Shot by Thierry Caro, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

No comments: