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New springs bill revised to remove language objectionable to ag groups, home builders

A proposed rewrite of a Senate springs bill filed on Monday would provide $55 million for projects and would revise language that raised concerns with homebuilders and agricultural groups.

SB 1576 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday (Apr. 22nd) by the Senate Committee on Appropriations during an all day meeting in which more than 50 bills are on the agenda.

Springs across the state have become covered with slimy algae as nitrogen in groundwater has increased. Sources of nitrogen include lawn and agricultural fertilizer, stockyards, septic tanks, dirty stormwater runoff and sewage plant discharges.

Environmentalists offered a mixed response to the proposed new bill language. A representative of the Florida Cattlemen's Association said the language was better and that the group is not supporting or opposing the bill because it still is being worked on.

Continued in The Florida Current...


FIU Professors Win Grant For Sea-Level Rise Project

Florida International University is one of twelve colleges in the country to win a grant from the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education this year. Four FIU journalism professors proposed a project on sea-level rise in South Florida.

Juliet Pinto, Susan Jacobson, Kate MacMillan and Robert Gutsche proposed and are now creating the Sea-Level Rise South Florida project. The goal is to give South Floridians easy access to data on sea-level rise, using a website and an app created by students.

"It's really getting the citizens into the classroom and the students out of the classroom," says Robert Gutsche.

Continued on WLRN.org...


SBEP to Celebrate Arbor Day with Eduational Classes at Twin Lakes Park

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April 21, 2014

Media Contact: Sara Kane
Public Outreach Manager
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
941-955-8085 / sara@sarasotabay.org

SARASOTA, FL – Sarasota County, UF/IFAS Extension, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) and FPL are celebrating Arbor Day 2014 with two free educational events at the Sarasota County Extension office, at Twin Lakes Park, 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota.

“Tree School” will be held 8 am - 12 pm on Friday, April 25. The event will focus on best practices and proper tree care for landscape professionals. Continuing Education Credits (CEUs), International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) credits will be available to participants.

“Value of Trees and Pruning for Tree Health” will be held 1 - 4 pm, on Saturday, April 26. The event will feature pruning demonstrations and a discussion on how to place the right tree in the right location. Information about coastal trees and the special considerations when managing them is also included. A panel of experts will be on hand to answer questions from participants who will also receive a free pindo palm seedling, while supplies last and donated by FPL.

A commemorative tree planting at the Sarasota County Extension Gardens at Twin Lakes Park will be held following the class on April 26.

Advanced registration is recommended for both classes and can be done online at sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu or by calling 941-861-5000.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is dedicated to restoring the area's greatest natural asset—Sarasota Bay. Its unique program strives to improve water quality, increase habitat and enhance the natural resources of the area for use and enjoyment by the public. Sarasota Bay is one of 28 estuaries in the United States that have been named by the U.S. Congress as an "estuary of national significance." Partners include Sarasota County, Manatee County, City of Sarasota, City of Bradenton, Town of Longboat Key, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Free Webinar on Water Quality

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EPA will be hosting a free webinar on April 23 from 1:00pm- 2:00pm Eastern Time to detail the new enhancements to How's My Waterway, a mobile friendly website that enables users to easily access water quality information for their local lakes, rivers, and streams.

The mobile friendly website has proven popular with the general public and more technical users alike because of its plain-English approach, map and list formats, simple design, and rapid retrieval of local-scale information. The enhanced version includes, among other things, drinking water source protection areas, watershed information, information on local permits that limit pollutant discharges, and National fish habitat partnerships to restore waterways to protect and improve fish habitats.

EPA water scientist Doug Norton, who developed How's My Waterway, will discuss the new enhancements and provide practical examples of how the tool can be used by various audiences. Visit How's My Waterway or register for the webinar here.


Oil company drilling in sanctuary fined $25,000 for violation that could be fracking

The Texas company that stirred controversy by applying to drill for oil in Florida panther habitat was doing more with one of its wells than what its state permit allowed.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday afternoon revealed that it had fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit. The violation involves using a process that sounds like fracking — although the word "fracking" appears nowhere in either Friday's DEP news release or the legal paperwork about the fine from 10 days earlier.

Instead, the 12-page consent order, dated April 8, says DEP officials became concerned about a "workover operation" that the Texas company launched without DEP permission in late December 2013. The well site is on an island surrounded by the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. DEP officials told Hughes to stop right away.

Determining exactly what the company did is difficult because the DEP censored that part of the order, labeling it "a confidential trade secret."

However, the DEP news release says Hughes "proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production."

That matches the dictionary definition of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: "the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas." Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica said it may mean Hughes was fracking, or it could mean it used one of several similar procedures.

Fracking has helped the United States vastly expand its production of natural gas by allowing greater access to reserves once considered too difficult to tap. However, scientists have expressed concern that the chemicals used in fracking may pose an environmental threat. Studies of fracking sites in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming found elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater, and Ohio geologists found a probable connection between fracking and a sudden burst of mild earthquakes.

The DEP's order, which resulted from negotiations with Hughes officials, says the company must provide an "estimate of the total amount of flowback material" from the injection and explain where and how it disposed of it. The types of chemicals used were not named.

The order also says the Texas company must put in four monitoring wells to watch for any pollution spreading beyond its drilling site that might contaminate drinking water wells.

The company also must pay for independent experts to consider "the potential for injected or native fluids to migrate through the deep geological formations or the well casing into surrounding groundwater-bearing zones" —in other words, the aquifer.

DEP officials would say little about the order and did not respond to a reporter's request to interview Ed Garrett, who heads up the oil and gas permit program. Hughes officials did not return repeated calls. Neither did anyone from Collier Resources, which owns the land.

Joe Mule, as president of Preserve Our Paradise, has led protests against a DEP permit allowing Hughes to drill on the edge of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge as well as about 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied home in Naples' Golden Gate Estates neighborhood. He said nobody from the DEP had told him or his neighbors of what the company had done.

Neither the DEP nor Hughes disclosed the violation during a recent hearing on the Golden Gate permit, said Preserve Our Paradise attorney Ralf Brookes.

Florida is not exactly Texas, where oil fields produced 588 million barrels of crude last year. But there are geological formations in the Panhandle and the area west of Lake Okeechobee that produced more than 2 million barrels in 2012.

As of last count there were 156 active wells in Florida, and the oil they pump out provided $700 million in tax revenue for the state. The oldest oil field is in Collier County, where the company that's now Exxon drilled its first well in 1942.

Rising oil prices in recent years have spurred a push to increase drilling in Florida, and Hughes has been in the forefront. Last year the company boasted, "Hughes has been in the business of drilling oil and gas wells for over 50 years and enjoys an exemplary reputation as a domestic and international operator."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.


Register now for "Ag Module 2014: Innovation in the Water Space"

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On April 24 and 25, Florida Earth, in partnership with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), University of Florida IFAS, Florida Farm Bureau and Crystal Springs Preserve, will host the SWFWMD Edition of the Ag Module Series.

​What: The Ag Module: SWFWMD Edition
When: April 24 & 25, 2014, 8:30 AM to 4 PM each day
Where: Crystal Springs Preserve, Crystal Springs, Florida
Cost: $95 for the first day, $195 for both days

The first day of the two-day forum will be held at beautiful Crystal Springs Preserve just south of Zephyrhills, northeast of Tampa, and will feature speakers addressing agriculture's interaction with water and programs designed to enhance stewardship in this space. The second day will be in the field visiting sites talked about on the first day including a tour of the UF IFAS Gulf Coast Research & Education Center and SMR Farms. For agenda and registration, visit the link below.

Featured Speakers:
• Craig Stanley (UF/IFAS)
• Ernie Cox: Family Lands
• Mac Carraway: SMR Farms
• Eric DeHaven: SWFWMD
• Michelle Hopkins: SWFWMD
• Robert Thomas: Two Rivers Ranch

Draft agenda and online registration


Do you know what to do if you hook a pelican?

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Photo by C. Frank Starmer

Catch fish, not pelicans! With just a little extra attention to your surroundings, you and your pelican friends can both have a great day out on the water.

The brown pelican is now a common sight on the coasts. Pelicans eat smaller fish that are not preferred by recreational fishermen and that are not commercially important. Pelicans are protected by federal and state laws.

A brown pelican’s keen eyesight allows it to spot fish from high in the air. Plunge-diving for fish is their specialty. After surfacing and draining water from its pouch, the pelican swallows its well-deserved catch. Even though pelicans are large birds with broad wingspans, their feathers and hollow bones are very light, exquisitely designed for agile and expert flight.

Entanglement in fishing gear may be their number one enemy, leading to slow death from dehydration and starvation. Bony fish scraps are also a killer, tearing the pouch or lodging in the throat. Feeding pelicans draws them to fishing areas and puts them in danger. Shorebirds, storks, herons, terns and gulls are also casualties. We can all help keep pelicans alive and healthy.

Audubon Florida has produced a handy brochure that gives step-by-step instructions for safely removing a fishing hook from a pelican or other shore bird. Print it out and keep one in your tackle box… Just in case!

"What to do if you hook a pelican" brochure


Public meeting April 22nd to discuss Sunshine Lake/Sunrise Waterway

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – A public meeting will be held to discuss stormwater and groundwater testing locations around Sunshine Lake and Sunrise Waterway at 5 p.m. April 22 at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron Street, Port Charlotte. The event will include staff from Atkins (consultant for long term management plan), Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), and Charlotte County Public Works.

Atkins will give an overview of the nutrient source evaluation study and the overall management plan process. A discussion will be held on the selection of locations for the stormwater and groundwater sampling devices. Charlotte County staff will provide an update on the algae removal project. SWFWMD staff will be on hand to answer any questions from citizens.

For more information contact Joanne Vernon, County Engineer at 941.575.3661.

Information about Sunshine Lake / Sunrise Waterway


Lee County officials discuss water-quality issues in Tallahassee

FORT MYERS — Lee County Commission Chairman Larry Kiker, Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass and County Manager Roger Desjarlais advocated for the Board’s legislative priorities in Tallahassee on Thursday. While their discussions covered a broad range of issues important to the County, a particular emphasis was placed on water quality funding.

The group met with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, DEP Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett, Senate President Pro Tem Garrett Richter, Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee Chair Matt Caldwell and the other members of Lee County’s legislative delegation, including Representatives Dane Eagle, Heather Fitzenhagen and Ray Rodrigues.

The meetings stressed the importance of funding of projects related to the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee, including a $15 million infrastructure project for the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir. Other issues of note discussed included funding for Lee County projects related to storm water runoff, flood control and nutrient-load reductions.

Water quality is exceptionally important to Lee County’s economy. More than 85 percent of visitors to Lee go to beaches, survey results show. Three-quarters indicate that “clean, unspoiled environment” influenced their decision to visit. Lee County sees 4.8 million visitors annually; their estimated spending is $2.8 billion in the local economy.

Lee County Commissioners receive legislative updates weekly from Assistant to the County Manager Glen Salyer, who also joined officials in Tallahassee. The 2014 state legislative session is scheduled to end May 2nd.

For Lee County updates, visit www.lee-county.com. Click on “government” and “Board of County Commissioners.” Then scroll down to “2014 Legislative Priorities.”


Manatee County Commission approves repair work on Lake Manatee dam

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Work to begin soon, critical repair should be complete by June 1

Addressing the Commission today during a special meeting to discuss the dam, Manatee County Water Division Manager Mark Simpson said the most critical dam work will be done in Phase IA and Phase IB. Phase IA will address the most critical areas of the dam before the rainy season.

Phase IB will extend the new cement wall north and south along the dam, creating a cement wall of about 3,700 feet across the dam to further enhance its structural integrity. Phase IB, Simpson said, could be complete as soon as Oct. 31, 2014. Utilities staff said Phase IB is a lower priority and can be done during the rainy season, after Phase IA repairs are complete. The Phase IA and IB work will cost an estimated $14.8 millions and is expected to extend the life of the dam another 50 years or more.

Manatee issued a notice to proceed on Tuesday, meaning crews are already mobilizing to begin Phase IA repairs. County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Manatee Utilities System has sufficient reserves to pay for receipts now without damaging its credit while the County identifies an alternate source of financing.

Continued on MyManatee.org...


Sarasota County & North Port issue RFP seeking operator for Warm Mineral springs

SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota County and the city of North Port have begun an international campaign seeking prospective long-term vendors to operate and/or develop Warm Mineral Springs, 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port.

Advertisements seeking proposals for consideration have been placed in both print and online newspapers and trade publications. Prospective bidder requests for further information must be submitted online no later than May 12, 2014, to https://eprocure.scgov.net. Completed bid packages must be submitted online no later than May 23, 2014, to https://eprocure.scgov.net.

The request for solicitation has also been advertised in Sarasota County Procurements new BidSync online system. BidSync allows Sarasota County Procurement to advertise solicitations to a national database of more than 750,000 qualified suppliers and service providers nationwide. For more information contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000 or email Carmen Gomez.

Learn more about Warm Mineral Springs

Contact Information
Sarasota County Call Center
phone: 941-861-5000.

Sharks sense prey in surprising ways during pioneering study

By Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Laboratory

SARASOTA – A team of scientists have unmasked the intricacies of how sharks hunt prey—from the first whiff to the final chomp—in a new study about shark senses that was supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

The study, led by scientists from the University of South Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory and Boston University, is the first to show how vision, touch, smell and other senses combine to guide a detailed series of animal behaviors from start to finish. Results show that sharks with different lifestyles may favor different senses, and they can sometimes switch when their preferred senses are blocked. That’s hopeful news for sharks trying to find food in changing and sometimes degraded environments.

Nose plugs were used to block the sense of smell on a blacktip shark in the study.

“This is undoubtedly the most comprehensive multi-sensory study on any shark, skate or ray,” said Philip Motta, a USF biology professor and internationally-recognized shark expert who co-authored this study.

Continued on news.usf.edu...


Senate committee approves estuary reauthorization bill

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Legislation Would Reauthorize Program First Established by Sen. John Chafee

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today approved the Clean Estuaries Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP). The legislation, crafted with Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), was approved with bipartisan support. The program was first established in 1987 by the late Republican Senator John Chafee to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment. Authorization for this important program expired in 2010.

“Estuaries are important for fisheries and wildlife, for tourism and recreation, and they are disappearing,” Whitehouse said. “Estuaries also provide buffers against dangerous winds and storm surges, protecting homes and critical infrastructure in our coastal communities. Protecting and strengthening our estuaries is our defense against these threats, and our way of protecting the economic and social value they provide.”

Although the program expired in 2010, it has continued to receive funding through the congressional appropriations process. Reauthorizing the law, however, provides an opportunity to make needed improvements to the program. Whitehouse’s legislation would maintain the funding authorization for the NEP at $35 million per year while also limiting the amount of the funding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which administers the program – can use for overhead. This change will help ensure that more funds are directed straight to the field programs.

Source: News release from Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day event promotes community resilience

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The Nature Conservancy in Florida is hosting Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day on Saturday, April 26 from 10 am – 3 pm at Laishley Park Municipal Marina. This family-friendly event highlights Punta Gorda’s efforts to become a more resilient coastal community. Learn about the Conservancy’s work in Punta Gorda to restore oyster reefs, volunteer to make oyster mats, and meet leaders in the city who are planning ahead for sea level rise.

Coastal Awareness Day highlights the Conservancy’s efforts to develop natural solutions to help coastal communities weather the impacts of storms and prepare for sea level rise in Florida. The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with the Florida DEP-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, and the City of Punta Gorda to create oyster reef habitat adjacent to Trabue Harborwalk – and you can help!

Join us on April 26 at Laishley Park Municipal Marina to get your hands dirty and experience first-hand the power of communities working together to return critical oyster reef habitat to Charlotte Harbor. Volunteers will help prepare oyster mats for deployment in Charlotte Harbor and learn how Punta Gorda is leading the way in buffering its coast against storms and sea-level rise.

Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day is hosted by The Nature Conservancy and the City of Punta Gorda, with support from Florida Weekly and WCGU – Southwest Florida Public Broadcasting. For details, visit www.nature.org/coastalawarenessday.

WHAT: Charlotte Harbor Coastal Awareness Day
WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 2014, 10 am – 3 pm
WHERE: Laishley Park Municipal Marina, 120 Laishley Ct., Punta Gorda, FL 33950

A Family Friendly Event — No RSVP Necessary

Schedule of Activities:
  • Oyster Mat Making: 10 am–3 pm
  • Kid’s Craft Station: 10 am–3 pm
  • Nature Can Help! Panel Discussion hosted by John Davis of WGCU: 11 am–noon
    • Christine Shepard – Director of Science, Gulf of Mexico Program, The Nature Conservancy
    • Laura Geselbracht – Senior Marine Scientist, Florida Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
    • Joan LeBeau – Chief Planner, City of Punta Gorda
    • Lisa Beever – Director, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program
  • Coastal Resilience 2.0 (There’s an app for that): 1:30 pm–2 pm

Contact Information
Rocio Johnson, Marketing Manager, The Nature Conservancy, rocio_johnson@tnc.org
phone: (305) 432-2440.

Environmentalists fight proposed bill that reduces local control of water resources

By Jessie Van Berkel

TALLAHASSEE — Environmentalists across Florida are on edge as a bill that would reduce local control over environmental protection moves through the state Legislature.

The House bill would limit counties’ ability to enforce regulations on springs, stormwater and wetlands adopted after July 2003, and allow local government officials to change their long-range growth plans with a simple majority vote. Currently, if Sarasota County and other communities change their plans, by increasing density in a certain area, for example, a supermajority — four of the five commissioners — must support the move.

The bill would also allow for decades-long water use permits to be granted to major developments on rural land.

“This bill not only wreaks havoc with the environment, it hits at our ability to have local control,” said Gerry Swormstedt, a conservation chairwoman for the Manatee-Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club.

Continued in the News-Journal Online...


New! Learn about oyster and beach monitoring programs in Sarasota County

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Just added to the Sarasota County Water Atlas are two new features designed to keep the public informed about environmental monitoring efforts by the County to ensure good water quality.

The new Oyster Mapping & Monitoring section of the Atlas has general information about the eastern oyster,Crassotrea virginica—its life cycle, how it affects and is affected by water quality, global threats and restoration efforts—and describes the habitats and locations where oysters may be found in Sarasota County's bays and creeks. The results of two different monitoring efforts are provided: one of these mapped the types and location of oyster habitat, and the other monitored the health of oysters in different locations in the County. The interactive map provided graphically displays these results. The section also has links to research papers and websites with information about oysters and how environmental managers around the world are working to restore their habitat.

Also new is the Beach Action Plan page. It describes the efforts of Sarasota County and its partners (the Sarasota and Manatee County Health Departments, the Town of Longboat Key, the Cities of Sarasota and Venice, and the Englewood Water District) to establish an "Action Plan" to minimize adverse human health impacts from bacteria exposure and avert "No-Swim Advisories" at County beaches. The project produced individual "sanitary surveys" for 16 area beaches that map potential sources of water contamination; project partners monitor these regularly to ensure swimmer safety. You can view the survey maps, read the full "Beach Bacteria Incident Action Plan", see photos of the beaches, and find out about beach amenities on this useful page. Also provided are links to research papers and websites about beach water quality and monitoring.

Learning & Education Tools on the Sarasota County Water Atlas


Federal judge rules Okeechobee pumping illegal

TALLAHASSEE – A federal judge says pumping water from farmlands into public water supplies such as Florida's Lake Okeechobee violates the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups say Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in New York's Southern District was "long overdue."

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice first filed its case in 2002 over polluted water from sugar cane and vegetable fields pumped into Lake Okeechobee. Earthjustice argued that the South Florida Water Management District violated federal law by allowing agricultural companies to send polluted water into southern Florida's water supply without decontaminating it first.

The Florida case was bundled with similar claims from several other states and heard in New York federal court.

Environmental groups say stopping pollution at its source is key to fixing South Florida's water problems.

Source: Associated Press


Opinions sought on new Watershed Stewards Academy program

A team of faculty from the University of Florida (UF) is working on the development of a new educational program. They are reaching out to environmental organizations to get input about the level of interest and curriculum content.

The proposed program is called the Watershed Stewards Academy and it will be offered through UF/IFAS Extension. The program will be modeled after many of the other “Master” programs the University of Florida offers (like Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, etc.) with 7 to 12 sessions over a period of time. It will focus on enhancing Floridians’ connection to water; relationships with the watershed in which they live, work and play; and the dynamic interaction of water quality, quantity and their associated policies and regulations. It could include potential action projects and lead to volunteer service in local communities.

The Watershed Stewards Academy team has developed a state-wide needs assessment to aid in the development of this program and they want to hear from you! Your responses to this survey will help them design the program to best meet the needs of potential participants like you. Based on this brief description, they would very much appreciate your time in completing this survey. Approximate survey time: 10 minutes.

Take the survey

Contact Information
Lara Miller, Natural Resources Agent, Pinellas County Extension, lmiller@pinellascounty.org, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL. 33774
phone: (727) 453-6905.

House, Senate differ sharply over agricultural water spending in their budget proposals

The proposed House and Senate fiscal year 2014-15 budgets are close on several key programs within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services budget but are far apart on the department's water programs.

The House budget would provide $47.7 million for agricultural water policy programs including $34.3 million from general revenue. The Senate budget includes $20.5 million for those programs including $7.1 million from general revenue.

The House water programs proposal provides $24.5 million for agricultural nonpoint source best management practices including $5 million for springs, $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and $1.5 million for the Bessey Creek hybrid wetland treatment system.

The Senate proposal provides $16.5 million for those programs with the only specified spending being $3 million for the Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

In addition, the House provides $9 million for hybrid wetlands treatment projects in the Everglades region and $10 million for Okeechobee restoration and agricultural projects.

Continued in The Florida Current...

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