Will Legislature Make Agencies Less Accountable, Privatize Public Water Resources?

As conservative business groups make their case before the U.S. Supreme Court to rein in what they consider the excesses of federal agency actions, the Florida Legislature is trying to protect local and state agencies from any outside oversight, especially from the environmental community.

A pair of bills (SB 768 and HB 789 ) moving through the committees would force citizen groups to pay agencies’ legal fees if they challenge what they consider bad permitting decisions and lose.

This is not about frivolous lawsuits intended merely to gum up the process. Judges already have the authority to drop the hammer on that kind of foolishness.

Instead, this is about serious issues.

The most recent case cited that would have been affected if the proposed law would have been in place was a suit filed by the Florida Springs Council that challenged the decision by the Suwanee River Water Management District to allow a water bottling company to divert nearly 1 million gallons a day from a spring, They unsuccessfully argued about the withdrawal’s effect on stream flow in local rivers as well as the larger issue of why the idea of producing bottled water from public water bodies is a beneficial use of a public resource.

Many people consider the bottled water industry’s marketing a hoax in the first place, but apparently the judge in this case was unmoved and upheld the permit.

The question is if the Legislature passes the bill and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it, will it mean the end of citizen challenges to questionable permit decisions because of the financial consequences if they lose.

In other words, it comes down to this: If you do not have deep pockets, you might think twice before you try to take on the deep state.

The term “deep state” is often cited by conservatives, but in reality, it cuts both ways.

Meanwhile, there is another bill (SB 1386) that has been proposed that includes a provision to allow water-use permits to be granted for 30 years instead of 20 year if permittees agree to some conservation and water reuse measures.

One question that merits further discussion is whether a 30-year permit, which would likely outlive the career of the water management district official who granted it, could become another foot in the door to efforts to turn water permits into water rights. Such efforts have so far been unsuccessful so far in Florida, but the issue bears watching.

One of the next stops for the lawsuit bill is the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose membership includes two members of the local legislative delegation, Sen Ben Albritton of Wauchula and Sen. Colleen Burton of Lakeland. It would not hurt to drop them a line and let them know how you feel.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.