Q&A with Senator Paula Dockery
State Senator Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, is credited with bringing competing interests to consensus in the development and passage of Senate Bill 444, which created the Water Protection and Sustainability Program of 2005. It is the first significant piece of legislation to combine water pollution, water supply and water concurrency policy in a single law. Bay Soundings talked with the Senator recently about the progress of SB 444 as she prepares for the 2007 Legislative session.
State Senator Paula Dockery
What have been the most significant impacts of SB 444, and has it been successful?
It’s been very successful. In fact, the water management districts who actually implement the grant program for alternative water supplies have already spent down or at least picked out projects for the first two years of funding. The water management districts have good estimates of new water supplies coming online because of the dollars, but there are many more requests than we’re able to fund.
One of the things we were trying to accomplish was to get local governments to work together, either by creating a water authority or through interlocal agreements, so that we don’t have different municipalities competing for dollars. It’s been extremely successful from that perspective.
The legislation provides $100 million over 10 years. Is that enough state support to accomplish the job?
The money actually breaks down to $100 million the first year (2005-2006), and another $60 million for years two through 10 for alternative water supplies. It’s a matching program so that $100 million in 2005 actually works out to be $500 million in water supply projects 20% from the state, 20% from the water management district and 60% from the applicant and then $300 million a year from then on.
Even that isn’t enough money, but people have to realize that we passed this bill in the midst of a hurricane season when many areas of the state were flooded and it was hard to get people to believe we had a water shortage. I’m thankful for the last summer, particularly insurance and property value wise, but we’re now in desperate need of water. Of the 160 legislators up there, there aren’t many focused on this issue. Hopefully this year there will be a better climate so we can explain to people that we have a water supply problem.
Is Florida doing a good job conserving water?
Statewide we’re not doing a good job on conservation, but different areas of the state are. Tampa Bay is doing a good job, because there’s good leadership and they’ve let people know we have water problems.
Floridians continue to waste astounding amounts of water on landscape irrigation. Can we wean people off green grass and toward Floridafriendly water-wise landscapes?
That’s going to be hard to do in Florida where people are very conscious about what their properties look like, but we should be trying, especially in new development, to be sure that all irrigation water comes from reuse instead of groundwater.
Miami-Dade in particular, has incredibly huge amounts of reused water just going out on the tide that would be perfect for irrigation, homes and golf courses except for the expense of distributing.
We set up the state program so that paying for piping to move reused water would be acceptable.
Where do we go from here?
It all goes back to the fact that we’re not managing growth well. If we’d made the tough but right decisions years ago, we wouldn’t have some of the problems we have today. We need to make those really tough decisions and say that the people who are already in the state deserve a better quality of life. We need to grow at a more reasonable rate and we need to be serious about concurrency including water supply.
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