As the Florida Legislature prepares to start the 2015 legislative session, there is considerable optimism that 2015 will be the "Year of Water." There are several reasons for this optimism. First, the substantial number of voters (75 percent) approving constitutional amendment (now Article X, Section 28) shows strong support for water and land-related projects. Second, the House State Affairs Committee (SAC) prepared and passed HB 7003, a very comprehensive bill addressing numerous water issues. In addition, HB 7003 was approved by the House Appropriations Committee. These actions, along with Speaker Crisafulli's support, have led many to believe that HB 7003 may be the first bill passed by the House, which is a very different position for the House. In 2014, similar senate legislation was not heard by a single House Committee. Third, Senator Dean has filed SB 918, which appears to be the Senate's legislation for water.

The recently enacted constitutional amendment requires that one-third of the documentary stamp taxes be appropriated for specific types of projects. The constitutional amendment does not generate new money; it only allocates money from an existing revenue source. For fiscal year 2015-16 the estimated revenue is $757 million, of which $173 million is needed to pay for debt service. This leaves a minimum of $584 million to be allocated. In fiscal year 2014-15 the amount of money allocated by projects meeting the constitutional requirements varied depending on who you asked from a low of $470 million to more than $1 billion. Because of the different interpretations of the constitutional requirements expect many debates as to the amount of funding, as well as the types of projects that can be funded. To date the House and Senate have received proposals for 475 projects with an estimated cost of $1.2 billion and that does not include requests from DEP or the water management districts.

HB 7003 addresses four major areas. The first major area is related to protecting and restoring the water quality and the flows in springs. In addition, it (1) codifies the work and decisions made by the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI); (2) amends the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Program; and (3) expands agriculture's role in water quality and water resource development.

SB 918 has two major components-a springs component and a non-motorized trail component.

The only major common component in HB 7003 and SB 918 is the "springs component." While there are many common provisions, there are the following differences:

  • While HB 7003 improves the existing minimum flows and levels (MFLs) process and the water quality assessment process-TMDLs and BMAPs, the
    House Bill does not provide timetables for completing these processes, while the Senate does.
  • HB 7003 includes all first magnitude springs and all second magnitude springs within state or federally owned lands, while SB 918 includes all first magnitude springs and six second magnitude springs.
  • SB 918 creates the Florida Water Resources Advisory Council to evaluate and prioritize projects eligible for state funding. The Council will be composed of the DEP Secretary, FWC Executive Director, Commissioner of Agriculture, appointee by Senate President and appointee by House Speaker. The Council will send its recommendation for funding to the Legislature.
At this time, there are two major unaddressed issues. First, how much money will be appropriated for projects meeting the new constitutional requirements. Second, will funding be done annually or will some type of long term commitment be made so that long term plans can be developed.