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Commissioner Putnam calls water policies top priority of 2014 session

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A comprehensive policy to deal with Florida’s perennial water problems should be a top priority of lawmakers for the 2014 session, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Monday.

At a news conference at his office in the Capitol, Putnam said, fresh water management, development regulations and pollution are statewide problems that require a statewide response, particularly in the development permitting process.

adamputnam1118“There are a host of water issues facing Florida,” Putnam said.

Most attention to water issues is focused in the southern part of the state in Everglades, Putnam said. But Florida’s streams statewide, areas of Central Florida north of Lake Okeechobee and the Apalachicola Bay in the northwest part of the state also need help, Putnam said.

“If the Everglades were suffering from inadequate water flow” because of development in Georgia, there would be statewide outcry, he said.

Putnam did not detail any “comprehensive” approach, but said the state resources devoted to water issues should be spread more evenly, to include the oyster industry as well as areas that are development targets.

The state’s environmental programs, such as Florida Forever, have in the past been focused almost exclusively on buying land for preservation, Putnam said. That focus needs to broaden, he said.

From Apalachicola Bay in the north to the Caloosahatchee River in the west, the St. Lucie Estuary in the east or the Everglades to the south, “every corner of Florida is facing some degree of water conflict,” Putnam said.

FIRE SEASON: Putnam warned that the wet weather experienced statewide over the summer could be a sign of a dangerous fire season to come. Conditions this year, he said, have led some forestry officials and meteorologists to warn of a coming dry spell similar to 1998 and “the worst fire season in anyone’s memory.”

“This is exactly what happened in 1998,” he said.

GREENING: Putnam reported little progress in the state’s efforts to fight citrus greening, despite international cooperation. The citrus forecast now is for the smallest crop in 20 years, he said. And that’s even before the first fruit starts dropping because of greening.

“It continues to be the greatest threat the state’s citrus industry has ever faced,” Putnam said.

POLITICS: Putnam, a star figure in the state’s Republican Party who is up for election in 2014 against underdog Democrat Thaddeus Hamilton, said the challenges of the office won’t change. “Even if it’s a great year for water this session, there will be plenty to do after that.”

With Gov. Rick Scott also up for re-election and former Gov. Charlie Crist running for the Democratic nomination to challenge him, Putnam said he will “work with whoever the voters send there.”

“I believe Rick Scott will be elected,” he said.

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