Scott-O-Meter

More funding for springs restoration and alternative water supply programs

"During my second term I will: Continue to expand funding for springs restoration and alternative water supply programs."

Updates

After cuts, Florida added more dollars for springs

Gov. Rick Scott sang a greener tune in his second campaign following criticism over his handling of environmental issues.

In a second term, Scott said he would add money for springs restoration and alternative water supply programs, according to his "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" proposal.  

That promise was a switch-up from his first-term water policy. In addition to cutting $700 million from water management in 2011, Scott in 2012 canceled a springs restoration program started by former Gov. Jeb Bush. During his first term, his administration also oversaw big cuts in Department of Environmental Protection funding and eased permitting rules.

Specifically, Scott said he would propose 10-year spending projects for springs restoration and expanding the state's alternative water supply with an emphasis on conservation, each totalling $500 million. (Editor's note: We deleted an overlapping promise on springs and water project spending from the Scott-O-Meter before publication.)

Scott did get more money for springs. But he did not get what he wanted for projects that would diversify the state's supply of water — a growing concern as the state's population increases.

As part of his more environmental approach, Scott in 2016 signed the Legacy Florida bill (HB 989), which established a recurring fund of up to $50 million in state funding per year for Florida springs projects.

Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lauren Engel said that since 2011, investment in Florida's springs was more than $450 million. She said that including projects proposed for the current fiscal year, this funding would make "a direct impact to protect" Florida's springs.

Engel said these projects were projected to "reduce more than 11 million pounds of nitrogen from Florida's springs, save 339 million gallons per day of water to improve spring flow and protect more than 10,000 acres of land surrounding springs through strategic acquisitions."

Some springs advocates said it didn't go far enough. Ryan Smart, the executive director of the Florida Springs Council — a coalition of 45 springs advocacy organizations — said that losses from previous cuts to Florida's water management districts under the Scott administration "more than wipe out any gains" from the Florida Legacy Act.

Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said that while Scott's administration then supported springs restoration funding at historic levels, much of that funding did not directly benefit Florida's springs, instead going to public works projects and agricultural producers.

"The fact is Gov. Scott's administration was pretty much a disaster for protection of springs and other natural environments in Florida," Knight said.

During his second term, Scott also pushed to increase alternative water supply funding. The governor's office pointed to his proposed budgets for the 2016 through 2019 fiscal years. For nontraditional water supply projects, DEP asked for between $30 million to $50 million each year.

The Legislature never went for it.

The state's Water Protection and Sustainability Program was last funded in 2010, before Scott took office. That money should be gone by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, according to the most recent annual report on regional water projects.

The Department of Environmental Protection is still trying. In its 2019-20 legislative budget request, the agency asked for a $15 million grant program.

Our conclusion

Florida has invested more into springs restoration funding, although some environmentalists have remained critical of his administration's efforts. He had less luck securing funding for alternative water supply projects, as the Legislature rebuffed his request each year of his second term.

We rate this a Compromise.

Sources:

Gov. Rick Scott re-election campaign, "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" plan, 2014

PolitiFact, " Fact-checking Rick Scott on the environment and sea-level rise," March 11, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Yes, Rick Scott did cut $700 million from Florida's water management districts," Aug. 14, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Wakulla Springs advocates say 'cleanup plan won't clean our spring,'" June 7, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Advocates say plan to protect Wakulla Springs lacks enforcement," June 30, 2018

Palm Beach Post, "Florida needs real protection, restoration for declining springs," Sept. 30, 2016

The Palm Beach Post, "Rick Scott signs 'Legacy Florida' bill, steers millions to environment," Sept. 3, 2016 The Tampa Bay Times, "Legislature passes 'Legacy Florida' preservation effort as last bill for session," March 11, 2016

Tallahassee Democrat, "Wakulla Springs advocates say 'cleanup plan won't clean our spring,'" June 7, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Advocates say plan to protect Wakulla Springs lacks enforcement," June 30, 2018

Palm Beach Post, "Florida needs real protection, restoration for declining springs," Sept. 30, 2016 Email interview, Lauren Engel, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, Nov. 27, 2018

Email interview, Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council executive director, Nov. 27, 2018

Email interview, Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, Dec. 3, 2018

Email interview, Dee Ann Miller, DEP spokeswoman, Jan. 4, 2019

Florida Department of Environmental Protection, "Regional Water Supply Planning: 2017 Annual Report," updated Nov. 28, 2018

Florida Fiscal Portal, DEP legislative budget requests, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19

Scott recommends $100 million for springs, new water sources

One of the pledges Gov. Rick Scott made during his bid for four more years was that he would turn on the funding spigot for springs restoration and water programs, something he had largely ignored his first term.

While his call for $5 billion to restore the Everglades has been getting the headlines (including $150 million in his 2015-16 budget proposal), he also is asking lawmakers to commit money to restoration and alternative water supply projects. They are part of his $77 million budget proposal, revealed in January. The Legislature has a $1 billion tax surplus to play with this year, although Scott has already asked for $673 million in tax cuts.

His proposal includes $50 million to help clean up the state's freshwater springs, which are becoming increasingly polluted and in some cases are reversing their natural flows. That's the same recommendation Scott made last year, his office said, although the Legislature eventually approved $30 million.

That was still up from $10 million in 2013 -- after state water management districts had asked for $122 million. Scott's office said it projects spending on restoration projects to grow, eventually receiving $1.6 billion over 20 years.

Like the Everglades projects, Scott is proposing to help pay for springs using some of the dedicated funds from Amendment 1, the measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2014 to set aside a third of documentary stamp taxes to pay for land and water conservation for the next 20 years. We should note Scott never took a position on Amendment 1 during the 2014 election season.

Scott also recommended $50 million for programs to develop alternative water supplies through sources besides pumping from the Floridan Aquifer. That's a new recommendation that wasn't in last year's budget proposal, his office said, and is part of a projected 10-year, $500 million project to increase the state's water supply by 250 million gallons per day.

The Legislature begins its 2015 session on March 3, and will consider Scott's proposals, although it does not have to approve them. In lieu of a final budget, we'll rate this promise In The Works.

Sources:

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida water management districts seek $122 million for springs restoration," Jan. 22, 2013

Tallahassee Democrat, "Gov. Rick Scott pitches his $1B environmental plan," Aug. 4, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Pro-environment Amendment 1 a big hit with voters, but no one knows what Legislature will do," Nov. 5, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Scott proposes $77 billion budget with $673 million in tax cuts," Jan. 28, 2015

Florida Department of Environmental Protection, "Governor Scott's "Keep Florida Working" Budget Recommends Nearly $1.6 Billion to Protect and Preserve Florida's Natural Resources," Jan. 28, 2015

Keep Florida Working, "Strengthening Florida Communities," accessed Feb. 4, 2015

Interview with Jeri Bustamante, Rick Scott spokeswoman, Feb. 4, 2015

Interview with Dee Ann Miller, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, Feb. 4-5, 2015