(1) This act shall be known as the “Florida Aquatic Weed Control Act.”
(2) The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shall direct the control, eradication, and regulation of noxious aquatic weeds and direct the research and planning related to these activities, as provided in this section, so as to protect human health, safety, and recreation and, to the greatest degree practicable, prevent injury to plant and animal life and property.
(3) It shall be the duty of the commission to guide and coordinate the activities of all public bodies, authorities, agencies, and special districts charged with the control or eradication of aquatic weeds and plants. It 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.
(4) The commission shall also promote, develop, and support research activities directed toward the more effective and efficient control of aquatic plants. In the furtherance of this purpose, the commission may:
(a) Accept donations and grants of funds and services from both public and private sources;
(b) Contract or enter into agreements with public or private agencies or corporations for research and development of aquatic plant control methods or for the performance of aquatic plant control activities. The commission may enter into an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that pesticides applied to the waters of the state are regulated uniformly, including provisions for the coordination of agency staff and resources, through the implementation of permitting, compliance, and enforcement activities under ss. 403.088 and 403.0885;
(c) Construct, acquire, operate, and maintain facilities and equipment; and
(d) Enter upon, or authorize the entry upon, private property for purposes of making surveys and examinations and to engage in aquatic plant control activities; and such entry shall not be deemed a trespass.
(5) The commission may disburse funds to any special district or other local authority charged with the responsibility of controlling or eradicating aquatic plants, upon:
(a) Approval by the commission of the control 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.
(6) The commission shall adopt rules pursuant to ss. 120.536(1) and 120.54 to implement 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 creating general permits and exemptions and adopting rules and forms governing reports.
(7) No person or public agency shall control, eradicate, remove, or otherwise alter any aquatic weeds or plants in waters of the state unless a permit for such activity has been issued by the commission 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 control activities, including applications to engage in control 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 (2) and, in accordance with applicable rules, take final agency action on permit applications for the use of aquatic plant control activities on sovereign submerged lands.
(8) As an exemption to all permitting requirements in this section and ss. 369.22 and 369.25, in all freshwater bodies, except aquatic preserves designated under chapter 258 and Outstanding Florida Waters designated under chapter 403, a riparian owner may physically or mechanically remove herbaceous aquatic plants and semiwoody herbaceous plants, such as shrub species and willow, within an area delimited by up to 50 percent of the property owner’s frontage or 50 feet, whichever is less, and by a sufficient length waterward from, and perpendicular to, the riparian owner’s shoreline to create a corridor to allow access for a boat or swimmer to reach open water. All unvegetated areas shall be cumulatively considered when determining the width of the exempt corridor. Physical or mechanical removal does not include the use of any chemicals or any activity that requires a permit pursuant to part IV of chapter 373. (9) The application of herbicides to waters of the state for the control of aquatic plants, algae, or invasive exotic plants is exempt from the requirement to obtain a water pollution operation permit except as provided in ss. 403.088 and 403.0885. (10) Notwithstanding s. 369.25, the commission may collect aquatic plants to be used for habitat enhancement, research, education, and for other purposes as necessary to implement the provisions of this section.
(11) The commission may quarantine or confiscate noxious aquatic plant material incidentally adhering to a boat or boat trailer.
(12) The commission may conduct a public information program, including, but not limited to, erection of road signs, in order to inform the public and interested parties of this section and its associated rules and of the dangers of noxious aquatic plant introductions.
(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.