Very urgent action needed:
Regional Water Management in Perilous State
The Florida Conservation Coalition decided that the future of the Water Management Districts would be its first priority this session. We now know that last year’s legislative takeover of the districts was just a beginning.
Background: Water management districts were created in Chapter 373, Florida Statutes based on the principle that water resources should to be managed on a regional watershed basis, and that they should be governed by boards appointed by the Governor consisting of (informed) lay citizens residing within the districts. This provision was made to ensure that important water resource management and financing decisions of districts are made by people who represent the regions/districts - the governing boards. By careful study and vitally important public involvement the district boards crafted strategy to protect and manage their areas water supplies and with carefully designed, environmentally sound measures produce effective drainage from extreme rainfall events.
Chapter 373 also gave the Governor budget oversight and gave the Department of Environmental Protection general supervisory authority over the districts. This changed in 2011. SB 2142 (2011) placed WMD budget oversight largely in the legislative branch, including the setting of revenue caps and budget approval. District budgets were cut by over $700 million (39.6%) and resulted in the loss of over 590 jobs and positions. As a result, Florida's water management districts now do not have a sustainable level of funding to meet the State's core water management goals of water supply, flood protection, water quality and natural systems. It should be noted that districts' regulatory programs are integral and essential to the accomplishment of the core mission/goals. While the legislative aim was to force administrative efficiencies within the districts, the overall results were far more profound, in that governing board and executive branch oversight authority was largely overridden by the legislature. This conflicting legislative control and revenue caps placed on the districts' budgets have jeopardized Florida's water management system. SB 2142 needs to be rescinded.
Urgent Action Needed. The 2012 bill, SB 1834 would not only further tighten legislative control over district budgets, but would involve the Legislature in all aspects of district activities - operations, programs, and projects. This is unacceptable. SB 1834 also contains a provision which needs to be enacted. It removes the revenue caps imposed on the districts by SB 2142, which needs to be done - this is all that needs to be done! There should be no more legislative involvement in the districts’ already extremely difficult mission, or further take away district oversight authority from the Governor.
Taken together, SB 2142 and SB 1834 will render regional water management and regionally appointed governing boards moot. Water management in Florida will become far more politicized and far less effective.
SB 1834 has not been introduced in the House and has not been heard in any Senate committee. But to assume that this bill is going nowhere would be a mistake. Even with such an important issue, Florida’s legislature could bypass virtually all committees and public scrutiny. It could likely appear very late in the session in the appropriations bill or some other legislation.
This is an extremely important issue – it’s our water, your water. How it is managed and by whom is critical. Consider this: Do you prefer legislative control of water management, whereby legislators from the opposite end of the state “call the shots” on your water and your tax dollars? Or do you prefer that water resources be managed on a regional basis by people in your area? If you prefer the latter, then write or call Governor Scott and ask him to fight to regain his constitutional authority to oversee water management district budgets and to resist further legislative intrusion into executive branch (his) affairs. Ask him to fight to remove the caps on revenue that will allow the districts to resume the levy of sufficient ad valorem taxes to do the work Florida so desperately needs.
Write or call Senate PresidentHaridopolos, President-elect Gaetz, Speaker of the House Cannon, Speaker-designate Weatherford, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Alexander and urge them to (1) remove the current revenue caps; (2) restore oversight of district budgets in the Governor’s Office; and (3) avoid further legislative involvement in the operations of the water management districts.
Write or call or visit your Senator and Representative and ask them to do likewise.
Estus Whitfield and Vicki Tschinkel
Footnote: Since October 2011, thirteen county commissions have adopted resolutions directed at water management. Each resolution contains these three statements: (1) Supports the water management structure and functions as listed in Chapter 373, F.S; (2) supports adequate funding for water management districts, such that they may accomplish their lawful missions of managing and protecting regional and local water resources; and (3) opposes the centralization - command and control of regional and local water resources within the executive and/or legislative branches of government, or by a statewide board or authority. These counties are: Broward, Citrus, Gadsden, Jefferson, Lee, Leon, Martin, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Polk, Sarasota, Taylor, and Wakulla. Additionally, representatives of the nine counties of the County Coalition for the Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries, and Lake Worth Lagoon approved the resolution, and representatives of all 16 counties in the South Florida Water Management District watershed were expected to bring the resolution before their respective county commissions.