Florida friendly landscaping gets boost in controversial water bill

07/06/09 Seán Kinane
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A bill signed late last month by Governor Charlie Crist could encourage people to replace their water-wasting St. Augustine grass lawns with Florida-friendly landscaping.

“So I think you’re going to see a huge paradigm shift.” Karina Veaudry is executive director of the Florida Native Plant Society. They actually asked Governor Crist to veto the legislation because of concerns about one amendment. It allows the executive directors of the state’s water management districts to make major decisions without consulting their boards. But Veaudry calls the Florida-friendly landscape section of the bill “wonderful.”

“It’s really been years in the making. I think you’re going to see a shift in landscape design.”

Veaudry says that people will spend less money on fertilizers, pesticides, and water with Florida-friendly landscaping.

The state Senator who sponsored the bill, Carey Baker agrees. Senator Baker says he is “pretty excited about” Florida-friendly landscaping being signed into law.

"Using native plants, using best management practices, which insure that you use a minimum of water, that you use a minimum of fertilizer and pesticides. It’s really about planting the right plants that are going to grow when the rain comes and the best thing is at the end of the day we’re going to save water, folks will save money on pesticides and fertilizer.”

Businesses and homeowners can gain from the legislation, but Senator Baker, a Republican from Eustis, says that publicly-owned land will also benefit.

“It says that all state of state of Florida-owned properties will have to go to Florida-friendly landscapes in five years.”

Baker’s Florida-friendly landscaping bill was originally a stand-alone bill. But in order to get it passed, he says he had to piggy-back it onto another water bill by Senator JD Alexander. It was for that reason that many environmental groups opposed the bill.

“You know, I wasn’t happy that it happened, but I amended my bill onto Senator Alexander’s bill that was moving. So, if I wasn’t able to amend it onto his bill, this good legislation would have never occurred this year. … His bill at that time had the support of the environmental community … it was only until he adopted some language to make the Senate bill look just like the House bill, did we sort of pick up that provision. … Even Senator Alexander did not know the ramifications of that wording.”

In a letter accompanying his signing of Senate Bill 2080, Governor Crist wrote, “I am asking the governing boards and executive directors to continue to include surface water and consumptive use permits on all board meeting agendas or other public meetings for discussion and transparency purposes.” Senator Baker hopes that the request by the governor will suffice until next session when the Legislature can take out the provision granting permitting powers to executive directors.

“Probably next year, you’ll see a movement for us to readdress that. As well as the Governor made it real clear to the water management districts …that he expects full and public hearings.”

Some cities are jumping on the Florida-friendly landscaping bandwagon as well. St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse calls the bill a “really good thing.”

“If you think about water policy, where are we going to save water, the first place … is in changing our landscaping.”

Nurse says that St. Pete will pass its own Florida-friendly landscaping ordinance in the next two weeks. “It would cap St. Augustine use at 50 percent of permeable space for residential and 10 percent for commercial. And then in addition to that, staff has found 24 locations where it makes sense for us to begin the transition to Florida-friendly landscapes.”

Nurse says that it’s important for governments to lead the way in reduced-water-demand landscaping in order to give citizens a model. “People need to see them.”

Sen. Carey Baker

Karl Nurse

previous WMNF coverage of Karl Nurse & landscaping

Florida Native Plant Society

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Kudos for FL friendly landscaping

It is just so very about time! Can it be that Florida can lead in a progressive direction? Let us hope. Congratulations Florida.