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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Protecting natural springs should be a priority

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State lawmakers can take a giant leap forward this year by passing a Senate bill that promises to clean and protect the state’s natural springs. The Senate’s Springs and Aquifer Protection Act offers a comprehensive and long-overdue approach to reversing years of neglect and abuse to a vital source of fresh water for all Floridians.

The bill is good for the environment and good for the economy and has bipartisan support in the Senate. It would use nearly $380 million to nurse the springs back to health. But a similar bill in the House has languished as business interests that include the Florida Chamber of Commerce and fertilizer and housing associations stand in opposition.

The House has set aside $50 million for springs restoration this year, and House Speaker Will Weatherford says he’ll consider the Senate’s bill when it passes through that chamber. We hope the Senate passes the bill in its current form and Weatherford looks beyond the narrow special interests and pushes for a similar bill to pass in the House.

Senate Bill 1576 offers a range of activities needed to restore the springs. It would impose regulations that curtail runoff and end excessive pumping. It would provide a recurring funding source and require local governments to meet or exceed the state’s limits on fertilizer use, which can bleed into springs and pollute the water. It would identify septic systems that threaten to pollute the springs.

“It’s a stake in the ground,” says Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee who has joined with four Republicans to sponsor the legislation. Montford rightly says the time to act is now.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an expenditure of $55 million this year, a good start but not nearly the money needed to bring meaningful and enduring change to the quality of the springs.

Scott has shown in recent months that he understands the importance of protecting the environment. He can demonstrate that understanding by sending a signal to the House that he is willing support a measure similar to what Senate Bill 1576 proposes.

Florida is home to more than 1,000 natural springs, which are critical to the state’s drinking water. Many of them are now polluted by runoff or over-pumping allowed to occur over decades.

The Senate bill identifies 38 springs the state considers to be critical, and it provides an aggressive set of conditions for their protection.

We applauded Scott and legislative leaders before the start of the session for promising to enact legislation that reversed environmental declines and added protections. With two weeks left in the session, lawmakers can make a bold statement by passing the springs protections outlined in the Senate bill.

Acting now to save our tainted springs would create an enduring legacy for this Legislature.

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