TALLAHASSEE -- House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday there won't be any big water policies adopted this year, punting the potentially tough political confrontation with polluters until two Central Florida lawmakers are running the Legislature next year.
That means legislators will contemplate this spring spending dollars now on Indian River Lagoon, Everglades and Lake Okeechobee clean-up, but not the larger problems of pollution from farms, front-lawns, waste-water treatment plants and septic tanks fouling the state's rivers, springs and lakes.
"It's not that we're not going to deal with water this year. We absolutely will. A lot of the issues we'll deal with have to do with funding," Weatherford told reporters.
"I think we'll tee up some policy, but I think the really big, meaty, holistic policy intiatives when it comes to water ... and the long-term, 20-year plans will likely come in the next session."
A cadre of state senators is drafting sweeping legislation for this year. It is meant to tackle thorny, water-quality problems in Florida's rapidly declining lakes, natural springs and aquifer.
And the draft legislation includes some controversial steps, including regulations on wastewater-treatment plants, fertilizers and farms, replacing thousands of leaking septic tanks and devoting as much as $400 million a year to the cleanup effort.
The lawmakers -- Sens. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Alan Hays, R-Umatilla; Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee -- represent regions where some of the most threatened springs, such as Silver Springs near Ocala or Wekiva Springs near Orlando, are located.
Drafts of the bill would require local governments, the Department of Environmental Protection and water-management districts to identify the worst-leaking septic tanks and require their replacement -- with the state footing the entire cost. The Legislature just three years ago passed a septic-tank-inspection law and later repealed it after property owners and interest groups balked.
It could also require local governments to adopt ordinances requiring property owners to only use granular, slow-release fertilizers. Wastewater-treatment plants could have to dramatically cut the amount of nitrogen in treated waters by 2019.
Agricultural operations would be required to use "best-management practices" instead of just being urged to use them. And water districts would not be allowed to approve new permits from drawing water from springs, rivers and the aquifer if they have any negative effect on flows.
Supporters of the package have the blessing of future Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
And now they will likely wait until Gardiner, and future House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, are in charge.
"It's such a complex issue it's really deserving of time and serious thought before you try to change policy," Weatherford told reporters. "It's not that we won't touch it; we'll just be careful what we touch."
Next year, lawmakers will also know whether a conservation amendment headed to voters this fall passed, which would eventually steer more than $800 million annually into land and water-protection.
Lawmakers have suggested one strategy might be to wait until it passes or fails before devoting big dollars to water clean-up which could fall under the definition of environmental spending in the amendment.
Weatherford said that wasn't why he was seeking the delay.
More immediately, lawmakers are pushing to provide as much as $40 million to deal with pollution-fueled blooms in the Indian River Lagoon, and more than $200 million to clean up discharges from Lake O into surrounding South Florida rivers.