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Private companies could also offset water pollution with new credits

Silver Glen Springs in Marion County
Florida likely has the world's largest concentration of freshwater springs, like Silver Glen Springs in Marion County. The springs flow from an aquifer system supplying 90% of the state's drinking water.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is working on draft language for a new water quality credit trading program, after members of the public asked questions about the program and raised some concerns at a rulemaking workshop last week.

The program paves a new path for Florida entities to offset their pollution, by buying and trading the “water enhancement credits” and operating water quality enhancement areas, or WQEAs.

A WQEA, or “natural system,” is defined in the draft language as “a designed, constructed, or altered ecological system supporting aquatic and wetland-dependent natural resources.”

Environmental lawyer and current Waterkeepers Florida Chair Jen Lomberk said she’s concerned a lack of reliable water quality monitoring data could jeopardize the program, which would rely on modeling. The current draft rule mentions nothing about actual water sampling.

“This means that they are essentially predicting water quality changes, rather than actually going out and sampling to confirm what is happening,” Lomberk said. “Models are only as good as the way that they're designed and the data that they’re based on.”

Although the program may sound good in theory, Lomberk urged FDEP to be cautious to ensure “it's not causing more harm than good.”

As currently written, the draft rule only allows for governmental entities to buy enhancement credits to offset water pollution from things like infrastructure projects. But a new state law headed for the governor’s desk, SB 1532, would expand the program to private companies, too.

During the rulemaking process, members of the public can weigh in on the draft rule language and stay tuned for updates at this FDEP link.

Molly is an award-winning reporter with a background in video production and investigative journalism, focused on covering environmental issues for Central Florida Public Media.