Even though most of the headlines this week came from the notorious ‘Bathroom bill’ and the fallout from the passage of blatant discrimination of the transgendered citizens of this state by the Republican members in the house, the passage of the water #HB7003 was passed , with only 9 Democrats standing against the bill. Even though Minority Leader Mark Pafford came out strongly against the bill, only 8 other legislators in the House stood with him, which perhaps shows the power of sugar money in the caucus and the party.
This is a very complicated bill, with a wide variety of issues all bundled into one large bundle. Water is a complicated issue in this state, simply because of the variety of issues and each brings complex challenges. The science of water is very hard for lay-people to understand. Water policy involves a lot of science and not just a little high school chemistry -the study of fluvial geomorphology in complex groundwater levels is one of the most complex subject matter studied, as there are so many elements of chemistry and physics. Different soils have different chemical compositions and different densities, nitrates are incredibly hard to measure in the underground maze of the aquifer, and above all, all our water needs are surprisingly interconnected.
Water policy – all water policies – is based upon models of water flow. These models are necessary to understand how water is connected and the overall system works. The state spends millions to develop these models in house at the Department of Environmental Protection. No water policy is enacted in the state of Florida without consulting the water models, no permits are issued, and no proposal is even considered without checking the effects according to the groundwater model. This is the holy book of water policy.
This is common sense in many ways – you need to understand the system is you are going to monitor, regulate, or
However, the models used in Florida are outdated – both the Water Management Districts and the Department of Environmental Protection agree on this. There is another model in the works at the DEP, yet it uses technology that the state is willing to pay for, which is not the best and nor most accurate technology. There is no peer review of their model either, which means that there is no room for experts in the field to give input. It will be ready in 2020 – five more years from now. Anyone from the DEP can verify this.
I had the opportunity to speak about these issues with Representative Matt Caldwell last spring with Dr. Robert Palmer, who has been working on this issue on the behalf of the Florida Springs Council. It was very clear that he only had a vague concept of the groundwater models, which is discomforting considering that the entire bill uses a groundwater model to dictate policy.
If all the science going into the bill is based upon bad models, the legislation cannot possibly be effective. Bad science makes bad bills. Legislators, on both sides of the aisle, must ask the hard questions: “What science is this bill based upon” is one of the most basic.
Legislators lined up to support the bill on both sides of the aisle and while Representative Pafford raised environmental concerns, no one raised the hard questions about the science behind the bill. Some legislators even praised the measure:
“Nothing in this bill serves to weaken the state’s ability to protect and restore the natural resources,” said Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation) “It provides the proper focus and effort to improve water quality standards” per the Tampa Bay Times.
If the state is making decisions based upon bad science, the focus is wrong. By basing policy on bad facts and failing to research the science, millions of dollars could potentially be spent on the wrong problems which will in fact weaken the state’s ability to protect and restore natural resources. These questions about the science and the modeling that this bill is based upon is separate from the environmental concerns. While for the most part environmental groups dropped the ball in lobbying the house for this bill and failed to properly engage legislators on both sides, the hard questions still should have been asked.
A comprehensive water plan cannot be put forward until the models are fixed. What the legislature needs to do is put the brakes on reform and put forward a bill to pay for more accurate models. It must fund alternative groundwater models that are peer reviewed by independent experts so that the science going into water policy is sound. There is a time and a place to bring in outside experts into government. Making sure the science is sound before large policy is passed is indeed the appropriate time to bring in outside experts. A few million spent down could save billions down the road.
It is simple common sense.