(1) Within each section, or the water management district as a whole, the department or the governing board shall establish the following:
(a) Minimum flow for all surface watercourses in the area. The minimum flow for a given watercourse shall be the limit at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of the area.
(b) Minimum water level. The minimum water level shall be the level of groundwater in an aquifer and the level of surface water at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources of the area.
The minimum flow and minimum water level shall be calculated by the department and the governing board using the best information available. When appropriate, minimum flows and levels may be calculated to reflect seasonal variations. The department and the governing board shall also consider, and at their discretion may provide for, the protection of nonconsumptive uses in the establishment of minimum flows and levels.
(2) By November 15, 1997, and annually thereafter, each water management district shall submit to the department for review and approval a priority list and schedule for the establishment of minimum flows and levels for surface watercourses, aquifers, and surface waters within the district. The priority list shall also identify those water bodies for which the district will voluntarily undertake independent scientific peer review. By March 1, 2006, and annually thereafter, each water management district shall include its approved priority list and schedule in the consolidated annual report required by s. 373.036(7). The priority list shall be based upon the importance of the waters to the state or region and the existence of or potential for significant harm to the water resources or ecology of the state or region, and shall include those waters which are experiencing or may reasonably be expected to experience adverse impacts. Each water management district’s priority list and schedule shall include all first magnitude springs, and all second magnitude springs within state or federally owned lands purchased for conservation purposes. The specific schedule for establishment of spring minimum flows and levels shall be commensurate with the existing or potential threat to spring flow from consumptive uses. Springs within the Suwannee River Water Management District, or second magnitude springs in other areas of the state, need not be included on the priority list if the water management district submits a report to the Department of Environmental Protection demonstrating that adverse impacts are not now occurring nor are reasonably expected to occur from consumptive uses during the next 20 years. The priority list and schedule shall not be subject to any proceeding pursuant to chapter 120. Except as provided in subsection (3), the development of a priority list and compliance with the schedule for the establishment of minimum flows and levels pursuant to this subsection shall satisfy the requirements of subsection (1).
(3) Minimum flows or levels for priority waters in the counties of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas shall be established by October 1, 1997. Where a minimum flow or level for the priority waters within those counties has not been established by the applicable deadline, the secretary of the department shall, if requested by the governing body of any local government within whose jurisdiction the affected waters are located, establish the minimum flow or level in accordance with the procedures established by this section. The department’s reasonable costs in establishing a minimum flow or level shall, upon request of the secretary, be reimbursed by the district.
(4)(a) Upon written request to the department or governing board by a substantially affected person, or by decision of the department or governing board, prior to the establishment of a minimum flow or level and prior to the filing of any petition for administrative hearing related to the minimum flow or level, all scientific or technical data, methodologies, and models, including all scientific and technical assumptions employed in each model, used to establish a minimum flow or level shall be subject to independent scientific peer review. Independent scientific peer review means review by a panel of independent, recognized experts in the fields of hydrology, hydrogeology, limnology, biology, and other scientific disciplines, to the extent relevant to the establishment of the minimum flow or level.
(b) If independent scientific peer review is requested, it shall be initiated at an appropriate point agreed upon by the department or governing board and the person or persons requesting the peer review. If no agreement is reached, the department or governing board shall determine the appropriate point at which to initiate peer review. The members of the peer review panel shall be selected within 60 days of the point of initiation by agreement of the department or governing board and the person or persons requesting the peer review. If the panel is not selected within the 60-day period, the time limitation may be waived upon the agreement of all parties. If no waiver occurs, the department or governing board may proceed to select the peer review panel. The cost of the peer review shall be borne equally by the district and each party requesting the peer review, to the extent economically feasible. The panel shall submit a final report to the governing board within 120 days after its selection unless the deadline is waived by agreement of all parties. Initiation of peer review pursuant to this paragraph shall toll any applicable deadline under chapter 120 or other law or district rule regarding permitting, rulemaking, or administrative hearings, until 60 days following submittal of the final report. Any such deadlines shall also be tolled for 60 days following withdrawal of the request or following agreement of the parties that peer review will no longer be pursued. The department or the governing board shall give significant weight to the final report of the peer review panel when establishing the minimum flow or level.
(c) If the final data, methodologies, and models, including all scientific and technical assumptions employed in each model upon which a minimum flow or level is based, have undergone peer review pursuant to this subsection, by request or by decision of the department or governing board, no further peer review shall be required with respect to that minimum flow or level.
(d) No minimum flow or level adopted by rule or formally noticed for adoption on or before May 2, 1997, shall be subject to the peer review provided for in this subsection.
(5) If a petition for administrative hearing is filed under chapter 120 challenging the establishment of a minimum flow or level, the report of an independent scientific peer review conducted under subsection (4) is admissible as evidence in the final hearing, and the administrative law judge must render the order within 120 days after the filing of the petition. The time limit for rendering the order shall not be extended except by agreement of all the parties. To the extent that the parties agree to the findings of the peer review, they may stipulate that those findings be incorporated as findings of fact in the final order.