This handbook is designed to provide an accurate, current, and authoritative summary of the principal federal and state (Florida) laws that directly or indirectly relate to agriculture. This handbook provides a basic overview of the many rights and responsibilities that farmers and farmland owners have under both federal and state laws as well as the appropriate contact information to obtain more detailed information. However, the reader should be aware that because the laws, administrative rulings, and court decisions on which this handbook is based are subject to constant revision, portions of this publication could become outdated at any time. Several details of cited laws are also left out due to space limitations.
This handbook is distributed with the understanding that the authors are not engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice, and the information contained herein should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. This handbook is not all inclusive in providing information to achieve compliance with the federal and state laws and regulations governing water protection. For these reasons, the use of these materials by any person constitutes an agreement to hold harmless the authors, the UF/IFAS Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law, and UF/IFAS Extension for any liability claims, damages, or expenses that may be incurred by any person as a result of reference to or reliance on the information contained in this handbook.
What is consumptive use?
Consumptive use is any use of water that reduces water availability in the source from which the water is withdrawn or diverted. For example, this can be pumping of water from the aquifer for public supply or irrigation.
Who regulates consumptive use?
In Florida, it is recognized that water constitutes a public resource benefiting the entire state. Florida's water use policy gives preference to desirable water uses to promote human, natural resource, fish, and wildlife preservation, and it is intended to prevent wasteful uses. Both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Water Management Districts (FWMD), which are charged with managing water resources and maintaining the state's reserves of usable water at an acceptable level, are vested with the authority to require consumptive use permits and impose conditions on those permits. In reality, this authority is delegated almost entirely to the FWMDs, which should be consulted before any consumptive use of water resources is undertaken (see FE616, Contact Agencies).
What permits are required for consumptive use?
All water withdrawals and uses must be permitted (unless explicitly exempted in existing laws and regulations). There are two types of permits, individual and general:
General permits are authorized for withdrawals of water that are less than permitting threshold (unless expressly exempted by law or District rule). A permit application is not required for a General Permit by Rule.
Individual permits are required when withdrawal volume equals or exceeds established daily limits that are measured in gallons per day or when withdrawal wells or surface intake facilities exceed certain specifications (such as intake diameter of six inches).
When a party's water usage reaches any of certain predetermined threshold levels, the appropriate FWMD will require an individual consumptive water use permit. It is highly recommended to consult the appropriate FWMD regarding the threshold levels that apply to specific operations. Permit application is required for the individual permit type.
How do I obtain an individual consumptive use permit?
To receive a permit for a proposed water use, an applicant must establish that the use is reasonable and beneficial; that is "the use of water in such quantity as is necessary for economic and efficient utilization" (Florida Statute, Chapter 373, section 373.019). The applicant must also establish that the proposed use will not interfere with any existing legal water uses and is consistent with public interests.
In order to be considered for a permit, an application must be filed with the governing board of your water management district or the Department of Environmental Protection. All permit applications must contain:
The name of the applicant and address or, if a corporation, headquarters address
The date of filing
The date set for a hearing, if any
The source of the water supply
The quantity of water being requested
The use to be made of the water and any limitation thereon
The place of use
The location of the well or point of diversion
Such other information as the governing board or the department may deem necessary
If the proposed application is for less than 100,000 gallons per day, the governing board or the department may consider the application and any objections thereto without a hearing. If the proposed application is for 100,000 gallons per day or more and no objection is received, the governing board or the department, after proper investigation by its staff, may, at its discretion, approve the application without a hearing.
To apply for a consumptive use permit, please see Florida's water permitting portal at: http://flwaterpermits.com
What happens if there are competing consumptive use permit applications?
When there are competing consumptive use permit applications for the same water source (e.g., an aquifer that is already under a stress from significant water withdrawals), a renewal application is given preference over an initial application. However, where neither application is a renewal, the water management district must give priority to the user closest to the source.
What kind of water is permitted for consumptive use?
For the most part, the water permitted for consumptive use is groundwater. Other sources of water permitted include surface water (such as in the Tampa Bay and Lake Okeechobee areas) and reclaimed water provided by domestic wastewater treatment plants (Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, Section 373.250). Reclaimed water is permitted by the FWMDs to promote and encourage water conservation. Contact your local FWMD to find out more about reclaimed water for consumptive use.
Recent Changes to the Consumptive Use Permits: Florida Water Bill (FWB) and Water Conservation
According to the FWB, a comprehensive water policy that addresses Florida's critical water supply and quality issues, and which became effective on July 1, 2016, new consumptive use permits for groundwater withdrawals and the renewal or modification of permits will require monitoring of withdrawals, if the permit authorizes 100,000 gallons or more per day from a well with an inside diameter of 8 inches or more.
To create incentives for water conservation, the FWB states that the implementation of water conservation measures (e.g., agricultural best management practices) will not lead to the revision of consumptive use permits during the terms of the permits. Water management districts shall adopt rules further incentivizing water conservation (e.g., permit extensions). Note, however, that some Water Management Districts may suggest permit revisions to honor water use reduction achieved through water conservation practices if the District's cost-share funding was used to implement the conservation measures.
For agricultural producers specifically, reduction in irrigation water use due to weather, crop disease, or changes in crops should not lead to revisions of water use permits during the term of the permit.
What are the effects of consumptive use permits?
Permits are only granted for fixed periods of time according to the reasonable assurances of the applicant that the conditions will not deteriorate. Except for municipalities, government bodies, public works, or public service corporations, they may not exceed twenty years and are usually granted for much shorter periods. When the nature of a proposed use is such that the permit application process may be lengthy, the appropriate FWMD may issue a temporary permit. Transfer of permits between activities identical in nature at the same location and for the same water source is usually allowed and conditions of the permit usually remain the same. There are different requirements for individual and general water permits.
When is a consumptive use permit revoked?
Any failure to continually observe the terms provided by a permit may result in its revocation. Other grounds for revocation may include unsatisfactory mitigation (reduction or lessening) of environmental damage from the use.
Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, Sections 373.203 to 373.250
Title 40, Florida Administrative Code (individual FWMD rules)
Consumptive Use (see FE616, Contact Agencies)
S-1, Florida Water Management Districts
The authors are indebted to the personnel of both state and federal agencies who provided their time and advice in the preparation of this handbook. We acknowledge Carol Fountain and Susan Gildersleeve at the University of Florida for their assistance in editing this handbook. We also acknowledge funding received for updating this publication from the 2016 Wells Fargo Extension Professional Award and Program Enhancement Grant (Principal Investigator is Tatiana Borisova).