Article Index



Public/Private Partnerships

Acquisition Program

Florida has one of the largest and most aggressive land acquisition programs in the country, with an excess of $300 million spent annually to purchase environmentally sensitive lands.

These acquisition programs began in 1981 when the Florida Legislature enacted a program known as Save Our Rivers (SOR), and created the Water Management Lands Trust Fund. The trust fund received revenue from the documentary stamp tax paid when land was sold, and was administered by the DEP. SOR act enabled the water management districts to acquire lands necessary for water management, water supply, and the conservation and protection of water resources. Since that time there have been a number of additional and successor programs, including “Preservation-2000” (P-2000), Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), Save Our Rivers (SOR), and Land Acquisition Trust Fund. P-2000 (which largely replaced the former CARL and SOR programs) alone was responsible for the public acquisition and protection of more than 1.25 million acres of land. In 1998, “Florida Forever” replaced the P-2000 Program and became the state’s newest blueprint for acquisition and conservation of our unique natural resources. Florida Forever, like most of the programs before it, derives its funding through a percentage of the documentary stamp fees assessed when property is sold. This program is scheduled to raise $300 million each year from 2000-2010. An annual report, entitled The Florida Forever 5-Year Plan, describes the lands under consideration for purchase under the Florida Forever program.

Florida Forever is more than just an environmental land acquisition mechanism. It encompasses a wider range of goals, including: restoration of damaged environmental systems, water resource development and supply, increased public access, public lands management and maintenance, and increased protection of land by acquisition of conservation easements. Florida Forever emphasizes water resource development and restoration projects as well as land acquisition for nonstructural flood protection and conservation.

In addition to Florida Forever, the Water Management Districts use ad valorem (property taxes) and mitigation funds for land acquisition. Some shift in emphasis is occurring from traditional land acquisition for preservation to acquisition for District construction projects such as stormwater treatment facilities.

In the late 1980’s, it was determined that Florida had to do more to protect and restore its surface waters. While “point” sources--sewage and industrial wastes--were being controlled, “nonpoint” sources--pollutants that enter water bodies in less direct ways--were still a major concern. In 1987, the Florida Legislature created the Surface Water Improvement and Management program (SWIM); (Sections 373.451-373-4595 of the Florida Statutes) to address these “nonpoint” pollutant sources,” in recognition that water quality in surface water bodies throughout the state had degraded or were in danger of being degraded and important functions, once performed by associated natural systems, were no longer being provided.

The functions to be maintained or improved were identified in the SWIM Act to include providing aesthetic and recreational pleasure for the state’s citizens; habitat for native plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species; and safe drinking water for the state’s growing population as well as attracting visitors and accruing other economic benefits.

The Act required each water management district identify and maintain a priority list of water bodies of regional or statewide significance, and develop plans and programs for the improvement of those water bodies. Water bodies identified by the district’s are approved by the state including the addition of new water bodies or the removal of existing ones.

SWIM is the only program that addressed a waterbody’s needs as a system of connected resources, rather than isolated wetlands or water bodies. To accomplish this, SWIM meshes across governmental responsibilities, forging important partnerships in water resource management.

While the state’s five water management districts and the DEP are directly responsible for the SWIM program, they also work with federal, state, and local governments and the private sector. All the partners contribute—with funding or in-kind services. Several water management districts have put more resources in SWIM than they receive from the state, and SWIM dollars have been used as a match to secure federal grants.

SWIM develops carefully crafted plans for at-risk water bodies, and directs the work needed to restore damaged ecosystems, prevent pollution from runoff and other sources, and educate the public. SWIM plans are used by other state programs, like Florida Forever, to help make land-buying decisions, and by local governments to help make land-use management decisions. Environmental education efforts are also funded by this program.

Specific SWIM plans developed by the water management districts include:

  • The SWFMD has identified, and the state has approved plans for ten priority water bodies. They are Tampa Bay, Rainbow River, Banana Lake, Crystal River/Kings Bay, Lake Panasoffkee, Charlotte Harabor, Lake Tarpon, Lake Thonotosassa, Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, and Sarasota Bay (Figure 1). Goals and objectives were developed for each water body and are used to guide programs and projects for maintaining or improving water quality, natural systems, and the other functions consistent with the SWIM Act. Essential to carrying out the District's SWIM Program is the cooperation of local governments and agencies in developing and implementing effective SWIM Plans.

Public Outreach/Education

Public outreach and education programs that provide materials on wetlands often also include information related to other surface waters (such as ponds, streams, and estuaries) and about the state’s regulatory and proprietary programs. Public Outreach and education programs include:

  • Visits to schools to provide interactive information in the classroom or out in the schoolyard;
  • Demonstrations involving the use “Enviroscape Models--including “stormwater” (also used for wetland education), and “coastal” models;
  • Active programs at specific events, such as scheduled wetland activities at local state park events, fairs or scout jamborees;
  • The development of agency speaker pools for requests from the public to come and provide information to the community;
  • Development of Internet based activities, some with specific sites for children;
  • Involvement in specific programs such as:
    • Florida Envirothon
    • the Disney Environmental Challenge
    • Technical Reports
    • Science fairs

The development of many of the above programs and program tools are in part cost shared with other organizations and regulated entities capable of supplying funding and materials for wetland outreach efforts.

To aid in training and support for environmental outreach personnel the State Committee on Environmental Education was formed to bring a network of environmental educators together twice a year to share programs, tools and other information useful towards providing environmental education to the public.

Additional outreach education materials may be accessed at:

Tax Incentives

The state does not provide any tax incentives for owning or conserving wetlands. However, many local governments do provide for a lowered tax rate for properties in a wetland or conservation zoning classification.

Technical Assistance

Florida has extensive ownership of wetlands in public lands such as state parks, state forests, and lands that have been acquired under various land acquisition programs at the state and regional (water management district) level. Many of these lands are actively managed by the state and the water management districts. However, the state does not offer any direct assistance for managing privately owned wetlands.

Other Nonregulatory Incentives for Private Landowners

The Everglades Forever Act (373.4592, F.S.) provides for granting credits to taxes established on farmers in support of the Everglades Restoration if the farmer implements best management practices for reducing phosphorus discharges.

  • Tax incentives also may be established under Article VII, Section 4(a) of the Florida Constitution to encourage agricultural land, land producing high water recharge to Florida Aquifers, or land used exclusively for non-commercial, recreational purposes not to develop in aquifer recharge areas.