I was asked to write a bit more about how the House water bill gives “Special water breaks” to certain water “self-suppliers.” The details are buried deep within the 87-page bill and are designed almost entirely to benefit agricultural users (without saying so). How do these special favors for agriculture work? A key example is a revolution in the statute’s definition of “water resource development.” It adds “self-suppliers” to those eligible for government assistance:
(24) “Water resource development” means the formulation and implementation of regional water resource management strategies, including the collection and evaluation of surface water and groundwater data; structural and nonstructural to protect and manage water resources; the development of regional water resource implementation programs; the construction, operation, and maintenance of major public works facilities to provide for flood control, surface and underground water storage, and groundwater recharge augmentation; and related technical assistance to local governments, and to government-owned and privately owned water utilities, and self-suppliers.
That same “self-supplier” term is added elsewhere to put this category of users at the head of the line:
(b) The governing board of a water management district shall give priority consideration to the identification of preferred water supply sources for self-suppliers for which access to or development of new water supplies is not technically or financially feasible. (p. 14)
Other major changes makes “self-suppliers” eligible for direct financial assistance:
373.707 Alternative water supply development.—
(3) The primary roles of the water management districts in water resource development as it relates to supporting alternative water supply development are:
(f) The provision of technical and financial assistance to local governments, self-suppliers, and publicly owned and privately owned water utilities for alternative water supply projects.
(e) Applicants for projects that may receive funding assistance pursuant to the Water Protection and Sustainability Program or receive other state funding shall, at a minimum, be required to pay 60 percent of the project’s construction costs. The water management districts may, at their discretion, totally or partially waive this requirement for projects sponsored by:
1. Financially disadvantaged small local governments as defined in former s. 403.885(5); or
2. Self-suppliers for projects determined by a water management district governing board to be in the public interest pursuant to paragraph (1)(f), if the projects are not otherwise financially feasible. (p. 72)
Quite a set of new special privileges. But why give these special breaks to agricultural businesses at all? Agricultural activities already benefit from enormous property tax breaks. According to the Florida Department of Revenue 2014 Data Book, agricultural land is taxed at only 9% of its “just value”:
In some counties, like Broward, Duval, Marion, Orange, Sarasota, and Seminole, assessed values for agricultural land are held down to less than 5% of just value. What a deal! Should a business that pays hardly any property taxes also get preferred or subsidized access to water?