(1) This section shall be known as the “Florida Aquatic Plant Management Act.”
(2) For the purpose of this section, the following words and phrases shall have the following meanings:
(a) “Commission” means the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
(b) “Aquatic plant” is any plant growing in, or closely associated with, the aquatic environment and includes “floating,” “emersed,” “submersed,” and “ditch bank” species.
(c) A “maintenance program” is a method for the management of aquatic plants in which control techniques are utilized in a coordinated manner as determined by the commission.
(d) An “eradication program” is a method for the management of aquatic plants in which control techniques are utilized in a coordinated manner in an attempt to kill all the aquatic plants on a permanent basis in a given geographical area.
(e) A “complaint spray program” is a method for the management of aquatic plants in which weeds are allowed to grow unhindered to a given level of undesirability, at which point eradication techniques are applied in an effort to restore the area in question to a relatively low level of infestation.
(f) “Waters” means rivers, streams, lakes, navigable waters and associated tributaries, canals, meandered lakes, enclosed water systems, and any other bodies of water.
(g) “Districts” means the six water management districts created by law and named, respectively, the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Suwannee River Water Management District, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, and the Ridge and Lower Gulf Coast Water Management District; and on July 1, 1975, shall mean the five water management districts created by chapter 73-190, Laws of Florida, and named, respectively, the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Suwannee River Water Management District, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the South Florida Water Management District.
(3) The Legislature recognizes that the uncontrolled growth of aquatic plants in the waters of Florida poses a variety of environmental, health, safety, and economic problems. The Legislature acknowledges the responsibility of the state to cope with the uncontrolled and seemingly never-ending growth of aquatic plants in the waters throughout Florida. It is, therefore, the intent of the Legislature that the state policy for the management of aquatic plants in waters of state responsibility be carried out under the general supervision and control of the commission. It is the intent of the Legislature that the management of aquatic plants be carried out primarily by means of maintenance programs, rather than eradication or complaint spray programs, for the purpose of achieving more effective management at a lower long-range cost. It is also the intent of the Legislature that the commission guide, review, approve, and coordinate all aquatic plant management programs within each of the water management districts as defined in paragraph (2)(g). It is the intent of the Legislature to account for the costs of aquatic plant management programs by watershed for comparison purposes.
(4) The commission shall supervise and direct all management programs for aquatic plants, as provided in this section, so as to protect human health, safety, and recreation and, to the greatest degree practicable, prevent injury to plant, fish, and animal life and to property.
(5) When state funds are involved, or when waters of state responsibility are involved, it is the duty of the commission to guide, review, approve, and coordinate the activities of all public bodies, authorities, state agencies, units of local or county government, commissions, districts, and special districts engaged in operations to manage or eradicate aquatic plants. The commission may delegate all or part of such functions to any appropriate state agency, special district, unit of local or county government, commission, authority, or other public body. However, special attention shall be given to the keeping of accounting and cost data in order to prepare the annual fiscal report required in subsection (7).
(6) The commission may disburse funds to any district, special district, or other local authority for the purpose of operating a program for managing aquatic plants in the waters of state responsibility upon:
(a) Approval by the commission of the management techniques to be used by the district or authority; and
(b) Review and approval of the program of the district or authority by the commission.
(7) The commission shall prepare an annual report on the status of the aquatic plant management program which shall be posted on the commission’s Internet website.
(8) The commission shall have the authority to cooperate with the United States and to enter into such cooperative agreements or commitments as the commission may determine necessary to carry out the control or eradication of water hyacinths, alligator weed, and other noxious aquatic plant growths from the waters of the state and to enter into contracts with the United States obligating the state to indemnify and save harmless the United States from any and all claims and liability arising out of the initiation and prosecution of any project undertaken under this section. However, any claim or claims required to be paid under this section shall be paid from money appropriated to the aquatic plant management program.
(9) The commission may delegate various aquatic plant management functions to any appropriate state agency, special district, unit of local or county government, commission, authority, or other public body. The recipient of such delegation shall, in accepting commitments to engage in aquatic plant management activities, be subject to the rules of the commission. In addition, the recipient shall render technical and other assistance to the commission in order to carry out most effectively the purposes of s. 369.20.
(10) The commission is directed to use biological agents for the management of aquatic plants when determined to be appropriate by the commission.
(11) The commission shall adopt rules pursuant to ss. 120.536(1) and 120.54 to implement the provisions of this section conferring powers or duties upon it and perform any other acts necessary for the proper administration, enforcement, or interpretation of this section, including adopting rules and forms governing reports.
(12) No person or public agency shall control, eradicate, remove, or otherwise alter any aquatic plants in waters of the state unless a permit for such activity has been issued by the commission, or unless the activity or waters are expressly exempted by commission rule. The commission shall develop standards by rule which shall address, at a minimum, chemical, biological, and mechanical control activities; an evaluation of the benefits of such activities to the public; specific criteria recognizing the differences between natural and artificially created waters; and the different amount and quality of littoral vegetation on various waters. Applications for a permit to engage in aquatic plant management activities, including applications to engage in management activities on sovereign submerged lands, shall be made to the commission. In reviewing such applications, the commission shall consider the criteria set forth in subsection (4) and, in accordance with applicable rules, shall take final agency action on permit applications for the use of aquatic plant activities on sovereign submerged lands.
(13) The commission has the power to enforce this section in the same manner and to the same extent as provided in ss. 379.501-379.504. (14) Activities that are exempt from permitting pursuant to s. 403.813(1)(r) are granted a mixing zone for turbidity for a distance not to exceed 150 meters downstream in flowing streams or 150 meters in radius in other water bodies as measured from the cutterhead, return flow discharge, or other points of generation of turbidity.