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Crist Signs Water Bill

A measure allowing managers of the five water management districts to approve permits without a formal governing board vote became law on Tuesday over the objections of environmentalists who said it unduly limits public input.

Cautioning executive directors to vet permitting issues before their full board of governors, Gov. Charlie Crist nonetheless approved SB 2080 saying it would further state efforts to improve the quality of water entering Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Crist lauded efforts by the South Florida Water Management District to secure a deal with U.S. Sugar Corp to connect the lake to the northern Everglades. The plan calls for the district to get 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar, though the company would lease some of the land back over the next 20 years.

That said, the governor acknowledged that legislation that came up late in the session to expand the power of directors caused great concern.

“I am asking the governing boards and executive directors to continue to include surface water and consumptive use permits on all board meeting agendas or other public meetings for discussion and transparency purposes,” Crist wrote in a letter announcing his support for the bill.

The measure includes a provision supported by environmentalists that prevents homeowners associations from restricting the use of Florida-Friendly yard practices to reduce the use of water and fertilizer.

Despite the homeowners' provision, Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Putnam County Environmental Council urged Crist to veto SB 2080, saying it puts too much power in the hands of district executive directors.

“We’re glad he’s asking the districts to go ahead and have public hearings but we want to get that part of the law repealed,” said Eric Draper, deputy direct of Audubon Florida and a Democratic candidate to become Florida Agricultural Commissioner. “It was a mistake to put this into law.”

Backers include the Florida Association of Home Builders, which argued that such hearings are sparsely attended, time consuming and raise the costs of environmental efforts.

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