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Kyra Haas
By Kyra Haas January 3, 2019
Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders January 3, 2019

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.

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin February 6, 2015

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.

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