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SB 536: DEP’s Report on Expansion of Beneficial Use of Reclaimed Water, Stormwater, and Excess Surface Water

Published: September 2nd, 2015

By: John L. Wharton

SB 536: DEP’s Report on Expansion of Beneficial Use of Reclaimed Water, Stormwater, and Excess Surface Water

Acknowledging that the availability of a sustainable water supply is an essential element of Florida’s future, the 2014 legislature directed that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) produce a comprehensive study to determine whether reclaimed water, stormwater, and excess surface water could be better utilized to reduce future demand from alternative, and more finite, sources. In August, DEP published a draft of the report required by SB 536: Report on Expansion of Beneficial Use of Reclaimed Water, Stormwater, and Excess Surface Water (the draft report).

The draft report is a wealth of information, replete with tables and figures addressing present and projected water supply, present and projected water demand, water use trends, and various and sundry illustrations of the use and potential use of reclaimed water, stormwater, and what the draft report characterizes as “excess” surface water – defined as “water that is available for withdrawal from rivers, lakes or other water bodies that is in excess of the amount needed to sustain healthy ecological conditions in the water body and downstream waters”. While Florida is the national leader in the use of reclaimed water (reusing 45% of treated wastewater flows), the use of stormwater is only now beginning to be widely recognized as an important part of a sustainable water supply. The third type of water resource which is the subject of the draft report, surface water, is heavily utilized as a resource in some areas of Florida while underutilized in others. The draft report encourages the implementation of a regulatory framework that will encourage increased use of these water resources as a part of the “diversification of water supply sources and storage techniques (which) will be the key to cost-effective, sustainable water use in the future” in Florida.

To the extent SB 536 actually accomplishes its purpose, which is to encourage and facilitate the development of these resources, these changes should be welcomed. As always, the devil is in the details. Dean Mead has encouraged its agricultural clients for years to be on the cutting edge of water capture, retention, and storage as an obvious impending necessity for the future preservation of Florida’s water resources.  A contemporary example is the Grove Land Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, (the GLRSTA Project) proposed by Grove Land Utilities, LLC (GLU), which is referenced on p.106 of the draft report. Dean Mead secured GLU’s Florida Public Service Commission certificate as a water and wastewater utility in 2012. The GLRSTA offers a myriad of potential benefits, including water storage, water supply, nutrient reduction, MFL compliance, water management flexibility, and important benefits to the Indian River Lagoon.

The draft report also has an excellent summary of all the recommendations and conclusions starting on page 134.  There are no recommendations for legislative changes.  All recommendations are either DEP or water management district regulatory changes, agency actions which don’t require a rule change, actions by the local water supplier, funding or education and outreach efforts. Further, these recommendations are broken down into those intended to address reclaimed water, stormwater, excess surface water, and storage. Some of the recommendations are the continuation of existing cost-sharing programs, while others focus on the removal of existing impediments to expanded reuse and utilization of these available water sources.

While the report is necessarily short on specifics, it may prove to be the framework for an ongoing regulatory effort that has the potential to significantly alter the water resource landscape in Florida. A review of the August 5, 2015 draft report is available on DEP’s website here: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/reuse/docs/sb536/SB536-Report-Draft.pdf.

Dean Mead will continue to monitor the implementation of SB 536, and the finalization of this report, as should any large water user or landowner, whether their water demand is generated by agriculture, industrial applications, or domestic supply. For more information, please contact John L. Wharton, attorney in Dean Mead’s Tallahassee office at jwharton@deanmead.com.

 

About the Author:

John L. Wharton is a member of Dean Mead’s Litigation department and the Governmental Relations, Lobbying & Administrative Law Industry Team. He represents both public and private clients in cases from application creation to administrative litigation before state and federal agencies. He also practices general litigation in state and federal courts. Mr. Wharton has over 25 years of experience in Tallahassee practicing before and often litigating against numerous state agencies in the areas of water resource planning; permitting and regulation; mitigation banking; health care; utility law and utility regulation; professional regulation and environmental law. He may be reached at jwharton@deanmead.com.