I am pleased that Rep. Steve Crisafulli wants to lead on water issues, but dismayed that he is calling for the development of a state water policy. We have one. Check out Chapter 373 Florida Statutes and Chapter 62-40 Florida Administrative Code. Together they are our state water policy. It is one of the best in the nation, according to legal experts.
Yes, water management in Florida is a mess. Republicans have hired nonprofessionals and fired professional water managers, cut the water budget in the five water management districts, cut land acquisition, tried to weaken dredge-and-fill rules, and further politicized water management. I would say that it is a perfect storm of mismanagement that has helped fuel the current crisis. Mind you, the crisis has been building for decades because of population growth, but the good news is that the structure and law are in place to make sure water is properly managed. It just needs to be implemented properly, and that will take leadership and money.
We can get out of this mess, but our leaders need to consult the professionals who know what needs to be done. Here are a few that I recommend because they have much to offer:
Contact Jim Stevenson for springs. He chaired the two spring task forces that wrote excellent recommendations on what is needed to protect and restore our treasured springs. To understand how water law works, contact Richard Hamann, a lawyer at the University of Florida. He is a legal expert on Chapter 373 and a former board member of the St. Johns Water Management District.
For practical expertise on how a water management district should be run, contact Sonny Vergara. He was the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the St. Johns River Water Management District, and general manager of the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority. For what needs doing to restore the Everglades, contact Estus Whitfield, former environmental adviser to several governors and a leader on Everglades restoration.
No one knows more than Steve Leitman about the ACF conflict and how to resolve it. There also are plenty of staff in the DEP who know and understand water law and policy but do not feel that they can speak out. Consult them. Finally, read Tom Swihart’s water blog. He has his finger on the pulse of water issues and its history.
These people and many other good professionals can help put water management on a sustainable course and get Florida out of its current water mess.
Two more points to those who want to solve our water mess: First we have a state water management plan. Use it and keep it updated. Second, natural systems also need water in the right amount at the right time, not just agriculture and the public for drinking. The needs of natural systems have to be met if Florida is to be a vital productive state.
Our leaders shouldn’t mess with water policy, because it is not broken. They should use it wisely and humbly acknowledge that those that came before them knew what they were doing.