(1) As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Central Florida Coordination Area” means all of Polk, Osceola, Orange, and Seminole Counties, and southern Lake County, as designated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, and the St. Johns River Water Management District.
(b) “District” means the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
(c) “Southern Water Use Caution Area” means an area that the district designated, after extensive collection of data and numerous studies, in order to comprehensively manage water resources in the Southern West-Central Groundwater Basin, which includes all of Desoto, Hardee, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, and Polk Counties.
(d) “Southern Water Use Caution Area Recovery Strategy” means the district’s planning, regulatory, and financial strategy for ensuring that adequate water supplies are available to meet growing demands while protecting and restoring the water and related natural resources of the area.
(e) “West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan” means the district’s regional environmental restoration and water-resource sustainability program for the Southern Water Use Caution Area.
(2) The Legislature finds that:
(a) In response to the growing demands from public supply, agriculture, mining, power generation, and recreational users, groundwater withdrawals in the Southern Water Use Caution Area have steadily increased for nearly a century before peaking in the mid-1970s. These withdrawals resulted in declines in aquifer levels throughout the groundwater basin, which in some areas exceeded 50 feet.
(b) While groundwater withdrawals have since stabilized as a result of the district’s management efforts, depressed aquifer levels continue to result in saltwater intrusion, reduced flows in the Upper Peace River, lowered water levels, and adverse water quality impacts for some lakes in the Lake Wales Ridge areas of Polk and Highlands Counties.
(c) In response to these resource concerns, and as directed by s. 373.036, the district determined that traditional sources of water in the region are not adequate to supply water for all existing and projected reasonable and beneficial uses and to sustain the water resources and related natural systems.
(d) The expeditious implementation of the Southern Water Use Caution Area Recovery Strategy is needed to meet the minimum flow requirement for the Upper Peace River, slow saltwater intrusion, provide for improved lake levels and water quality along the Lake Wales Ridge, and ensure sufficient water supplies for all existing and projected reasonable and beneficial uses.
(e) Sufficient research has been conducted and sufficient plans developed to immediately expand and accelerate programs to sustain the water resources and related natural systems in the Southern Water Use Caution Area.
(f) The implementation of components of the Southern Water Use Caution Area Recovery Strategy, which are contained in the West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan, is for the benefit of the public health, safety, and welfare and is in the public interest.
(g) The implementation of the West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan is necessary to meet the minimum flow requirement for the Upper Peace River, slow saltwater intrusion, provide for improved lake levels and water quality along the Lake Wales Ridge, and ensure sufficient water supplies for all existing and projected reasonable and beneficial uses.
(h) A continuing source of funding is needed to effectively implement the West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan.
(3) The district shall implement the West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan in a manner that furthers progressive strategies for the management of water resources, is watershed-based, provides for consideration of water quality issues, and includes monitoring, the development and implementation of best management practices, and structural and nonstructural projects, including public works projects. The district shall coordinate its implementation of the plan with regional water supply authorities, public and private partnerships, and local, state, and federal partners in order to maximize opportunities for the most efficient and timely expenditures of public funds.
(4) The West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan includes: (a) The Central West Coast Surface Water Enhancement Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to make additional surface waters available for public supply through restoration of surface waters, natural water flows, and freshwater wetland communities. This initiative is designed to allow limits on groundwater withdrawals in order to slow the rate of saltwater intrusion. The initiative shall be an ongoing program in cooperation with the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority created under s. 373.713. (b) The Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to expedite the implementation of production-scale, best management practices in the agricultural sector, which will result in reductions in groundwater withdrawals and improvements in water quality, water resources, and ecology. The initiative is a cost-share reimbursement program to provide funding incentives to agricultural landowners for the implementation of best management practices. The initiative shall be implemented by the district in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cooperative funding programs approved by the governing board shall not be subject to the rulemaking requirements of chapter 120. However, any portion of an approved program which affects the substantial interests of a party shall be subject to s. 120.569.
(c) The Ridge Lakes Restoration Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to protect, restore, and enhance natural systems and flood protection by improving and protecting the water quality of approximately 130 lakes located along the Lake Wales Ridge in Polk and Highlands Counties, which quality is threatened by stormwater runoff, wastewater effluent, fertilizer applications, groundwater pollution, degradation of shoreline habitats, and hydrologic alterations. This initiative shall be accomplished through the construction of systems designed to treat the stormwater runoff that threatens the water quality of such lakes. Such systems include swales, retention basins, and long infiltration basins, if feasible.
(d) The Upper Peace River Watershed Restoration Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to improve the quality of waters and ecosystems in the watershed of the Upper Peace River by recharging aquifers, restoring the flow of surface waters, and restoring the capacity of natural systems to store surface waters. The Legislature finds that such improvements are necessary because the quantity and quality of the fresh water that flows to the basin of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor are adversely affected by the significant alteration and degradation of the watershed of the Upper Peace River and because restoration of the watershed of the Upper Peace River is a critical component of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, and the Southern Water Use Caution Area Recovery Strategy. This initiative shall include an Upper Peace River Component. In addition to the initiative’s other purposes, this component will provide a critical link to a major greenway that extends from the lower southwest coast of this state through the watershed of the Peace River and the Green Swamp and further north to the Ocala National Forest.
(e) The Central Florida Water Resource Development Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to create and implement a long-term plan that takes a comprehensive approach to limit groundwater withdrawals in the Southern Water Use Caution Area and to identify and develop alternative water supplies for Polk County. The project components developed pursuant to this initiative are eligible for state and regional funding under s. 373.707 as an alternative water supply, as defined in s. 373.019, or as a supplemental water supply under the rules of the Southwest Florida Water Management District or the South Florida Water Management District. The initiative shall be implemented by the district as an ongoing program in cooperation with Polk County and the South Florida Water Management District. (5) As part of the consolidated annual report required pursuant s. 373.036(7), the district may include:
(a) A summary of the conditions of the Southern Water Use Caution Area, including the status of the components of the West-Central Florida Water Restoration Action Plan.
(b) An annual accounting of the expenditure of funds. The accounting must, at a minimum, provide details of expenditures separately by plan component and any subparts of a plan component, and include specific information about amount and use of funds from federal, state, and local government sources. In detailing the use of these funds, the district shall indicate those funds that are designated to meet requirements for matching funds.