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Environmental Groups' 2024 Conservation Funding Priorities

The Florida Springs Council worked with several statewide and local environmental organizations to draft a letter detailing the group's conservation funding priorities for 2024. The letter and press release are below. The letter includes budget recommendations in the following areas: Florida Forever, springs restoration, Everglades restoration, Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and Resilient Florida, urban fertilizer ordinance moratorium and the IFAS Fertilizer Rate Study (1543A).




Conservation Funding Priorities Letter Sent to Senate and House Budget Conferees


Dear Conferees,


The undersigned organizations urge you to follow the budget recommendations below in order to protect Florida’s lands, waters, and wildlife.


Florida Forever


The state of Florida allocates resources towards land conservation predominantly through revenue tied to growth, development, and real estate transactions. However, amidst this growth two costly phenomena ensue: first, an acceleration in environmental degradation, and second, an intensified need for mitigation efforts to counteract these damaging impacts. We respectfully implore the Florida Legislature to provide sufficient funding to effectively contend with the relentless onslaught of development pressures and sustain our conservation endeavors.

Florida’s budget must include a minimum of $500 million allocated for the Florida Forever program, the state’s exemplary, transparent, and established process for conservation land acquisition. Further funding should be provided for fee-simple and less-than-fee-simple acquisitions, such as the Rural and Family Lands Program. 


Additional funding sources to offset the cost of land acquisition, restoration, and management, such as gaming compact proceeds, must be used to supplement, not supplant, current conservation efforts.


Florida’s budget should reflect the urgency with which we need to acquire conservation land to secure Florida’s future and continue the momentum that began with record funding in the 2023 legislative session. This urgency is underscored by the fact that, with 1,000 people moving to Florida each day, our population is expected to increase by almost 5 million, or 23%, by 2040. This population growth has the potential to devastate Florida’s unique ecosystems through habitat loss and fragmentation. Without careful planning and adequate, reliable funding for land conservation, Florida is on track to lose 1 million acres of natural and agricultural land by 2040 due to development. 


Springs Restoration


Florida’s budget must include a minimum of $150 million for springs restoration to slow the continued degradation of Florida’s springs, rivers, and groundwater resources. Springs restoration has been continuously underfunded compared to other environmental priorities in Florida, typically receiving only $50 million per year, the minimum allowable under Florida Statutes.


The $50 million currently proposed in the state budget is not enough to make any meaningful difference to the health of Florida’s springs and springfed rivers. In fact, at this funding level we have seen spring health decline since the passage of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act as spring flows continue to decrease and pollution levels increase. This is not surprising as the cost to restore Rainbow Springs, just one of thirty Outstanding Florida Springs, is estimated to be more than $4 billion. 


Florida’s springs are important cultural landmarks and economic drivers in rural areas; they are the flow that feeds our rivers like the St. Johns, Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Withlacoochee, as well as the coastal estuaries where these rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico; and they are our window to the Floridan Aquifer, the source of two-thirds of Floridian’s drinking water. If we continue to fail to provide adequate springs funding we will lose much more than just Florida’s springs.


Everglades Restoration


Florida’s budget must include full funding for Everglades restoration. The Florida House budget, which matches Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed spending plan, allocates $614 million in grants and aid to local government - fixed capital outlay for Everglades restoration projects. Of this, $550 million would be distributed to the South Florida Water Management District for ongoing Everglades restoration projects.


The Senate budget, by contrast, allocates $307 million for Everglades-related grants and aid to local governments. Should the Senate budget vision prevail, Florida would fall behind on the cost share of Everglades projects, which could force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction on federal Everglades projects. The Legislature must adopt the House spending plan so that progress on Everglades restoration can continue.


Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and Resilient Florida


Funding for this program, enacted in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, must be terminated at the end of FY 2023-2024. In 2022, SB-4A appropriated $50 million to impacted beachfront property owners who were able to receive up to $150,000 per property for eligible projects. Last year, the Legislature extended the program through July 1, 2024, and increased the available funding to up to $300,000 per property for eligible projects. Now, the House is proposing to increase available funding up to $600,000 per property for eligible projects and further extend the program through the end of FY 2024-2025. 


This program provides grants to private beachfront property owners to carry out dredge and fill projects, as well as temporary and permanent armoring projects, to protect their private properties. The Legislature’s ongoing funding of private coastal armoring is an unconstitutional expenditure of public funds without serving a public purpose, and must be ended immediately. Any purported benefits of coastal armoring are solely to private property owners. Conversely, the beachgoing public and Florida’s coastal public trust resources will be significantly harmed by taxpayer-funded coastal armoring.  


Instead of underwriting harmful coastal armoring activities, the state should terminate the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and revert those funds to Resilient Florida. While this program has enjoyed robust levels of funding since its inception, the proposed budget is a marked decrease from $300 million to $200 million for eligible resiliency projects. In the wake of Hurricanes Ian, Nicole, and Idalia, the state should be doubling down on its resiliency investments to ensure that Floridians and critical infrastructure in vulnerable areas are adequately protected from the impacts of flooding, sea level rise, and storms. 


Urban Fertilizer Ordinance Moratorium


Florida’s budget and implementing bills must allow last session’s moratorium on local urban fertilizer ordinances with blackout periods to sunset on June 30, 2024. Last year, the Legislature funded a University of Florida/Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) evaluation of urban fertilizer ordinances and used it to impose a year-long moratorium on new protective ordinances. The studies referenced in the UF/IFAS report, released in late December 2023, revealed that urban fertilizer ordinances have a positive impact on water quality. The report also made clear that urban fertilizer controls should continue to be under the purview of local governments, something the Florida Consumer Fertilizer Task Force concluded way back in 2007, when it found that a watershed-by-watershed approach, as opposed to one statewide rule, was required to protect local waterfront economies from urban fertilizer pollution. The final recommendation in the UF report was for more research to be conducted over a long period of time. But in the case of urban fertilizer ordinances, which have spurred markets for alternative lawn care products and allowed landscape managers to successfully continue their work, it makes no sense to spend additional tax dollars to confirm what we already know. We urge you to let the moratorium sunset and allow local governments to protect their waterfront businesses, property values, and quality of life. 


IFAS Fertilizer Rate Study (1543A)


Funding for continuing the IFAS Fertilizer Rate Study must include a requirement that new fertilizer application rates are compatible with achieving water quality goals adopted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Agriculture is one of the leading sources of nutrient pollution to Florida’s waters, including being responsible for more than two-thirds of addressable nutrient pollution to Outstanding Florida Springs. Agricultural producers are granted a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards by 403.067(7)(c)3., Florida Statutes, for implementing Best Management Practices. 


Ongoing IFAS research, funded by the Legislature, to develop new agricultural fertilizer rate recommendations fails to account for the impact of increased fertilizer applications on Florida’s waters. Should these recommendations be adopted by the Department of Agricultural Consumer Services, as part of updated agricultural best management practices, it would result in a massive increase in pollution to Florida’s waters, outweighing anything the state has done over the past 20 years to reduce nutrient pollution. 



Sincerely,

Brittany Bernstein

Deputy Director

Florida Conservation Voters

Mia McCormick

Advocate 

Environment Florida

Mike Cliburn

Treasurer

Friends of the Wekiva River

Mark Perry

Executive Director & CEO

Florida Oceanographic Society

Gil Damon

Director

The Downriver Project

Laura Reynolds

Director, Hold the Line Coalition

Vice President, Friends of Biscayne Bay

Matt DePaolis

Environmental Policy Director

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

Brad Rimbey

Vice President

Homosassa River Alliance

Kim Dinkins

Policy Director

1000 Friends of Florida

Lisa Rinaman

Riverkeeper

St. Johns Riverkeeper

Stacey Gallagher

Policy Coordinator

Sea Turtle Conservancy

Eve Samples

Executive Director

Friends of the Everglades

Anthony Gaudio

President 

Wakulla Springs Alliance

Ursula Schwuttke

Director

Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration, Inc.

Emma Haydocy

Florida Policy Manager

Surfrider Foundation

James Scott 

Chapter Chair

Sierra Club Florida

Judith Hushon

Natural Resources Chair

League of Women Voters Florida

Gil Smart

Executive Director

Vote Water

John Jopling

President

Ichetucknee Alliance

Ryan Smart

Executive Director

Florida Springs Council

Casey Darling Kniffin

Conservation Policy Director

Florida Wildlife Federation

Joanne Tremblay

President

Our Santa Fe River, Inc. 

Jen Lomberk

Chair

Waterkeepers Florida


Press Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

February 27, 2024


Contact:  

Ryan Smart, smart@floridaspringscouncil.org, 561-358-7191

Gil Smart, gsmart@votewater.org, 772-209-2596

Paul Owens, powens@1000fof.org, 407-222-2301



**PRESS RELEASE**


Environmental Groups’ 2024 Conservation Funding Priorities


TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Major environmental groups and local nonprofit organizations came together for the first time in several years to draft a letter detailing the group’s conservation funding priorities. The letter, attached to this release, includes budget recommendations in the following areas: Florida Forever, springs restoration, Everglades restoration, Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and Resilient Florida, urban fertilizer ordinance moratorium and the IFAS Fertilizer Rate Study (1543A).


The letter was sent to Senate and House environmental budget conferees on Tuesday morning.. The group urges the Florida Legislature to follow these budget recommendations to protect Florida’s lands, waters and wildlife. 


Florida Forever


“With development pressure created by close to 1,000 new residents a day, and challenges brought on by sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms, Florida must have sufficient, reliable funding for land conservation to avoid losing its precious natural lands,” says Kim Dinkins with 1000 Friends of Florida. “We believe the requested $500 million for land acquisition and further investment in resiliency efforts is reasonable, considering historic funding levels adjusted for inflation, increasing land costs and the state’s healthy financial position.  Putting off overdue investments in land conservation, environmental restoration and community resilience will only raise those costs for taxpayers in the future. Now is the time for legislators to invest in a better future for Florida.”


“The Florida Wildlife Federation believes that robust and meaningful funding of $500 million for Florida Forever isn't just an investment in the land; it's a commitment to the ecological diversity that sustains our economy, protects plants and wildlife, and ensures access to clean water and recreational spaces for all,” states Florida Wildlife Federation Conservation Policy Director, Casey Darling Kniffin.


Springs


“The Florida Legislature has long-neglected our world-class springs and rivers, providing only $50 million per year, the minimum funding possible under Florida law,” says Florida Springs Council President Casey Fitzgerald. “Appropriating $150 million for springs protection and restoration in the 2024 Session - if allocated to projects that stop pollution at the source - won’t save our springs, but it will slow their decline. Doing the minimum to protect Florida’s springs, rivers and drinking water is no longer acceptable.” 


Everglades


“Everglades restoration is the most complex ecosystem restoration project on the planet — and it cannot succeed without consistent state and federal support. It’s not enough to allocate hefty taxpayer dollars for Everglades projects; we also must ensure projects follow sound science to address water quality, water quantity and timing of flows across the Greater Everglades. The current discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee are a reminder of how much work remains,” says Eve Samples, Executive Director of Friends of the Everglades


Coastal Resiliency


Emma Haydocy, Florida Policy Manager for Surfrider Foundation, says "Whether through sunny day flooding, stronger, more intense hurricanes, or increased erosion, Florida's coasts are threatened by the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Despite overwhelming vulnerability to climate impacts, the state legislature is directly funding the destruction of our state's treasured beaches using taxpayer dollars under the guise of resiliency and hurricane recovery. The state must end the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Program, and instead revert those funds to bolster resiliency efforts and adaptation projects."


Matt DePaolis, Environmental Policy Director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, says “With our communities still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Ian and releases from Lake Okeechobee threatening the health of our Northern Estuaries, it is essential that our leaders in Tallahassee pass a budget with robust funding to protect our water quality, conserve our remaining natural spaces, and fully fund the projects necessary to store, treat, and send water south to America’s Everglades.  If we don’t prioritize clean water now we will see massive ramifications to our environment and our coastal economies.”


“In addition to providing critical habitat for sea turtles, Florida’s beaches are the key to our economic success. Instead of using public funding to pay for seawalls that further drive erosion and cut off suitable nesting habitat, the State should be focusing on supporting nature-based solutions to sea level rise,” says Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Stacey Gallagher.


Urban Fertilizer Ordinance Preemption


"Hernando County, home of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, rushed to adopt a strong urban fertilizer ordinance between the moratorium vote and its implementation last year, and is the perfect example of how local governments need to have the choice to protect their own local economies.  The lowest cost alternatives for water quality protection should never be kept from counties, cities, or the taxpayers who end up footing the bill for cleanup when pollution is allowed to fuel toxic algae outbreaks. Don’t even think about taking them away," said Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, former Sewall’s Point Commissioner and Mayor and South Florida Water Management District Governing Board from 2019-2023.


IFAS Fertilizer Rate Study


"At a time when Florida waters are already plagued by nutrient pollution, IFAS’s new fertilizer rate recommendations could make the problem exponentially worse,” says Gil Smart, Executive Director of VoteWater. “These new rules absolutely must take the impact on water quality into account, because if the regulations result in more nutrient runoff, it could be game over for Florida's fragile waterways."



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Download the 2024 Conservation Funding Priorities Letter:


2024 Conservation Funding Priorites
.pdf
Download PDF • 78KB


Download the Press Release PDF:


Press Release 2024 Conservation Priorities
.pdf
Download PDF • 88KB



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