#HB7003 and The Legislature’s Problem with Good Science

springsEven 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However, the models used in Florida are outdated – both the Water Management Districts and the Department of Environmental Protection agree on this.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.

6 comments

  1. Who were the nine votes?

    1. Pafford, Jenne, Barbara Watson, Clovis Watson, Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, Larry Lee, John Cortes, Torres, and Rodriguez.

  2. Nine no votes?

  3. dianecbrown · · Reply

    It is a typical Florida Republican bill that guarantees no statutes will interfere with development, “private property rights,” or corporate pollution. Audubon’s take:

    HB 7003 Passes, Falls Short on Protecting Florida’s Water

    House water bill falls short on springs protection, conservation, and Lake Okeechobee cleanup.

    Audubon worked to educate legislators and to improve HB 7003 before it was rushed through the House earlier this week. But the bill is favored by legislative leaders who claimed it was “modernizing” water law. In fact, it continues the decades long practice of dumping polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and Indian River Lagoon estuaries.

    The bill also has springs provisions that fall short of a better bill (SB 918) in the Senate.

    Audubon will work in the Senate to fix the problems listed below:

    HB 7003 Weakens and Delays Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Cleanup
    Florida’s largest lake suffers from decades of pollution and neglect. The lake also discharges polluted water to the Everglades and to coastal estuaries. State agencies committed 2000 to clean up Lake Okeechobee by 2015, but little has been done to meet water quality standards. The bill:
    • Deletes an existing 2015 deadline for meeting water quality standards and offers no deadline for meeting the cleanup goal.
    • Repeals an existing law that requires discharge into the Lake Okeechobee at 35 different points, including from sugarcane farms, meets water quality standards.
    • Sets aside an existing rule that allows state agencies to require that discharges meet water quality standards and adopts an ineffective plan.
    • Adopts a phosphorous pollution control program that relies on activities (BMPs) that have not been shown to meet water quality standards.

    HB 7003 Does Not Advance Real Springs Restoration
    Many of Florida’s world class springs are suffering from reduced flows and excess nutrients. This bill:
    • Lacks deadlines for the adoption of minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for Priority Florida Springs. Without MFLs water management districts lack the ability to gauge the cumulative impact of water withdrawals.
    • May delay adoption of MFLs by requiring that recovery or prevention strategies be adopted at the same time.
    • Lacks deadlines for achieving water quality goals for impaired springs.
    • Lacks deadlines for restoring spring flows that have fallen below MFLs.
    • Allows pollution to continue to be introduced in springsheds from sewage sludge, hazardous wastes, new septic systems and wastewater disposal facilities, which only treat effluent to minimum standards, and animal feedlots.

    1. Dianecbrown, nice job raising questions concerning the water bill. It is a bad bill but at least it gets the ball rolling. Now it is up to the Senate to work on the issues you listed and to make sure that we use the money that the majority of voters intended the money to be used for, which is purchasing land south of the lake. By the way it could be put to use and return money by growing hemp.

  4. The future · · Reply

    Spot on. Great piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: