Friday, December 30, 2011

City of Tampa – What’s your scheme?

By now you’ve heard that there’s a bill being pushed through the bowels of the legislature that will allow the City of Tampa to “own” the wastewater it reclaims.  No?  Well, there is such a bill, and it stinks.
Why?  I’ll try to explain.
The bill, HB 639 sponsored by Representative Dana D. Young (R) Tampa, does a number of things to change how the state views the ownership of wastewater throughout the state which has been treated and declared reclaimed by the Florida department of Environmental Regulation. (The bill is co-sponsored by James W. “J.W.” Grant (R) Hillsborough , Ray Pilon, (R) Sarasota, and Janet Cruz, (D) Hillsborough.
To be clear, this would be the same water taken primarily from the Hillsborough River, in Tampa’s case, and used to flush all the human and other unthinkable wastes the city’s residents produce from their bathrooms and industrial discharges and carry it via pumps and pipes for “treatment” to the city’s Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant at Hooker’s Point.
Each day, the city produces 55 - 60 million gallons per day of this highly treated former Hillsborough River water and each day it dumps it all back into the river and thus into Tampa Bay.  It can’t do anything else with it right now because under Florida Law it continues to be considered “waters in the state,” a public resource, thus requiring a permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District Florida Department of Environmental Protection to dispose of it any other way.  And, this is the way it needs to stay.
It’s not that the city can’t do anything else with it.  It’s just that the city can’t do it without a permit from SWFWMD DEP.
Under current Florida law, reclaimed water is an alternative water source that is included in the statutory definition of “water” or “waters in the state.” Thus, reclaimed water is currently considered a public resource. Florida law recognizes only a right to the “beneficial use” of waters in the state, including reclaimed water, subject to statutory and administrative permitting requirements. As such, reclaimed water is not legally considered the property of or exclusively controlled by an entity that produces it.
This, says the city, is too constraining and controlling.  Why shouldn’t the city be able to actually own and do what it wants with this water which costs so much to treat to state standards?
A reasonable question.
Fortunately, there’s not too much concern about most of HB 639.  With the exception of that one certain provision pertaining to what I believe is virtually equivalent to "ownership," it is generally supported by many special interests including environmentalists.  The concern here is about what the City of Tampa, and only the City of Tampa, wants added to the more acceptable provisions of the bill.  This is where those who understand the nuances and vagaries of Florida Law say the bill can do real damage to how the state assures reclaimed wastewater remains a critical part of Florida’s comprehensive water resource management equation.
Again, the legislative staff analysis (p.1):
 This bill removes reclaimed water from the current statutory definition of “water” and “waters in the state” until the reclaimed water has been discharged back into state “waters.” That is, once a wastewater treatment plant converts wastewater into reclaimed water, it is no longer considered “waters in the state” until it has been discharged into state waters such as the aquifer, rivers, or estuaries. According to DEP, this definitional change removes the use of reclaimed water from regulation by the WMDs under the CUP permit program. From a legal perspective, the change shifts control over the use of reclaimed water from the State to the producers of reclaimed water.  (emphasis added)
And this is the bogeyman in the bill.
According to the staff analysis (p.4):
Reclaimed water is an important alternative water supply source in Florida in light of mounting pressures on the State’s fresh water resources, principally surface water and groundwater. Among its noteworthy benefits, the use of reclaimed water saves water that would otherwise need to be withdrawn from surface water and groundwater sources to meet non-potable supply needs such as agricultural or residential irrigation, power generation, or recreation (e.g., golf courses or waterparks). Additionally, reclaiming waste water reduces reliance on traditional wastewater disposal methods such as surface water discharges, ocean outfall, or deep injection wells. DEP asserts that “Florida is leading the nation – reusing 660 million gallons of reclaimed water each day to conserve freshwater supplies and replenish our rivers, streams, lakes and the aquifer.” (emphasis added)
SWFWMD’s Master Water Plan Executive Summary states further:
An emphasis on reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important resource that can help meet future demands in all use sectors.  (emphasis added)
Obviously, we’re not talking about a tiny rivulet of water that the city wants itself and hundreds of communities to control here.  We’re talking over 660 million gallons per day statewide, and that’s just for now.  With the growing need to reuse all water being consumptively and permanently removed from lakes, rivers, springs, wetlands, and aquifers, we’re talking about turning over to hundreds of counties, cities, and small communities control of probably close to a BILLION GALLONS OF  WATER PER DAY IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE!
If state leaders truly want efficient, comprehensive management of the state’s waters, so critical to its future, this is certainly not the road to redemption. 
As Estus Whitfield (Environmental Advisor to Florida Governor's Graham, Martinez, Chiles, and Bush) has said,It is Florida's environment and natural resources that define this state - its society and economy,” … to which I would add, and it’s  Florida’s water that defines Florida’s environment and natural resources.  It would simply be disastrous to slice this part of Florida’s future from the comprehensive management that the water districts provide and hand it over to the politics and disparate interests of hundreds of independent governmental bodies.
There is another circumstance that makes this proposal smell.
The fact that all reclaimed water originates from “waters in the state” at some point in its existence and, as mentioned earlier, is used to transport Florida’s societal wastes to a treatment facility where it can be rendered again safe for further reuse provides no rational basis for it to then become so controlled that it can also be defined as “owned.”
So the question arises, just why does the City of Tampa want to “own” its reuse water?  Presumably, because the city wants to make money by selling it.  The city is conveniently not talking about this, however, or how it would apply to hundreds of other communities who would take ownership and be able to create revenue from the sale of their reclaimed water.
Sounds sort of reasonable until one considers that many of the governments that own these facilities were recipients of state and water district revenues granted to them expressly so they could afford the upgrade costs associated with waste water reclamation. According to the same legislative staff analysis (p. 6):
Between fiscal years 2005-2006 and 2007-2008, the Legislature authorized the allocation of over $217 million among the five WMDs to develop alternative water supply projects. Reclaimed water development projects made up the bulk of project types that were funded over these four years, comprising 202 of the 324 funded projects.
Additionally, and far beyond this substantial amount, the water management district’s provided more grant funds derived from local property taxes.  For example, since 1987 SWFWMD alone has provided $343 million, mostly through its now defunct local basin boards, to help fund 308 reclaimed water projects within its boundaries.  Most of this was for 297 miles of pipeline.
The quantity of reclaimed water thus produced is about 160 mgd which equates to 160 mgd of new water for economic growth and sustainment of natural systems. (data provided by personal communication with district staff).
If counties and cities were to be given control of all reclaimed water now being produced as HB 639 currently proposes, and those communities were to be able to choose who they were going to sell it to and how the water would be used, any assurance the state now has that its future water needs will be met in adequate quantities would be reduced to unsubstantiated guesswork.
Which brings another point.
It isn’t just cities and counties that will gain "ownership" of their reclaimed water.  Billions of gallons of water that originally came from aquifers, rivers and lakes and which are being now used and treated for reuse by hundreds of industries would be included.  As long as they kept the reclaimed water within their containers, whether a pipe, reservoir or tank, and as long as it wasn’t being discharged into “waters in the state” it would be theirs to sell and trade to others. 
There are many farms and other businesses that now use reclaimed water provided by these many facilities which were funded with state and local property tax dollars.  If these farmers and businesses had to compete with others who could also use reclaimed water, many would likely not be able to afford the higher price and would have to close their gates and doors.
On the other hand, mining companies, paper companies, breweries and power companies use huge quantities of water.  Today, the water districts require this water to be reclaimed and reused.  If the districts were to be now removed from the regulatory equation and the water becomes “owned” by these companies, what’s to prevent the reclaimed water from being sent across district boundaries as proposed by the Committee of 100 a few years ago and sold to a faraway community willing to pay the best price?  Growth opportunities for one area would become sacrificed for those of another, and the real water wars will be on.
If the legislature is so unwise as to pass this bill with this provision, it will be creating a very slippery slope that could very easily move the state toward a major shift in Florida water law and the privatization (private ownership) of water.  Though this is being denied by the bill’s proponents, true good faith denial is impossible.  The bill is in serious need of further review, particularly this provision which needs to be permanently flushed and not reclaimed in any respect.
Shades of Nancy Argenziano and Local Sources First.  May she live to rise again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

You CAN make a difference. Here's your chance.

In a matter of a few days last spring, the Florida Legislature, lead by a pack of aggressive, high-paid lobbyists intent on taking advantage of a very inexperienced and misguided new governor and a vindictive legislature, changed Florida’s future from one of responsible growth management and environmental preservation to one where its future is now for sale to the richest PAC.

Great Egret
Orange County, Florida
Vergara Photo Art

Land use and environmental protection laws were too onerous and too obstructive for businesses to make a profit, the developers said, so let there be no constraints because we need jobs now.  Doesn’t matter that the businesses that flourish now will contribute to the decline of a world famous style of living in a state with warm sun, clean water and a healthy and inviting natural ecology of wildlife, forests, wetlands and vast open waters.  “Not our problem,” seems to be the mantra.  “Kick the can down the road.”  “Let somebody else fix the problems.  We need jobs now!”

Simple desirable concepts that were tossed aside included making sure fly-by-night developers could not create sprawl just anywhere and leave local taxpayers to pay the inevitable costs for the roads, security, education, water and sewer services that would be needed.  Also, local governments were left with little or no effective way to assure large projects that have multi-county impacts could be coordinated between them.  The statute that provided the means to assure the decisions of one county will not have unacceptable impacts on the next was eviscerated.  Rules that were designed to prevent the construction of a community of hundreds or thousands of roof tops without an adequate road system or new schools to serve newly arriving school children were rendered ineffective or repealed.
These are decisions best left to local government, the legislature said, and then cynically left them without any effective way to do it on their own.
Water management districts which, over the last 30 years, had become the state’s first line of defense against rampant destruction of its unique natural systems, despoliation of its world-class springs, rivers and lakes, and stalwart proponents for assuring there will be ample public supplies for the future, were ruthlessly attacked.  Revenues were shut off and thousands of years of institutional knowledge held by some of the most respected water scientists in the world were put on the street.
Common sense growth-management and environmental conservation laws for one of the country’s fastest growing states were unwisely repealed or purposely reduced to ineffectiveness all under the guise of needing jobs.
With this as backdrop, a group of former political, agency and community leaders from both parties, most in or near retirement, but all with the same feelings of shock and concern over what had happened, came together last month and declared such ill-advised actions that so jeopardize the state’s future cannot be allowed to continue lest the damage require generations of recovery, if it will be able to recover at all.
Thus, the Florida Conservation Coalition was born.  Lead by former Florida Governor and United States Senator, Bob Graham, its first priorities would be focused on Florida’s delicate state of water:
  • Restoring reasonable funding for Florida’s regional water management districts to provide for water quality protection, adequate water supplies, flood protection, and natural resources protection.
  • Funding Florida Forever including acquiring land for water resource protection.
  • Reaffirming Florida’s commitment to restore the Everglades, upon which South Florida’s water supply and quality of life depends.
  • Managing Florida’s water resources at the regional, not state level.
  • Ensuring that growth management laws and policies support sustainable use of water.
  • Promoting efficient use and conservation of water.
  • Opposing efforts to privatize Florida’s water.
The Florida Conservation Coalition’s website can be found HERE (http://floridaconservationcoalition.org/).

Yesterday (12-23-11), the FCC published a letter by Senator Graham. 
It is an important letter offered here with the FCC’s permission.
Fellow conservationists and friends,


Bob Graham
Former Governor of Florida and United States Senator
 Conservation and other organizations and hundreds of dedicated citizens of all walks of life from throughout Florida  have joined together to voice their concerns about the way the State’s environment and natural resources are being mistreated.  In 2011 the Governor and Legislature placed our state’s natural heritage in jeopardy.  The Florida Conservation Coalition with your help is dedicated to stopping and reversing this ill-conceived and reckless trend.

The issues that face us are described in the attached Coalition position papers.  In order to focus our efforts for the forthcoming year, we have placed heavy emphasis on water.  I encourage you to read these papers to get a better sense of the situation facing Florida.  Go to
floridaconservationcoalition.org .

To summarize, Florida’s nationally acclaimed growth management program was abolished, and the most notable conservation land acquisition program in the Country was not funded.  Important environmental laws were drastically weakened and citizens’ ability to appeal environmental permits was all but eliminated.  The Legislature took over control of the regional water management districts budgets and reduced them to dangerously lower levels.  The Governor supported these legislative actions.

Our immediate job is to convince the Legislature that it went too far and must correct and reverse its misguided actions of 2011.  One of the most effective ways of influencing the Legislature is by one-on-one personal contact with individual legislators in their home territory.  While the conservation organizations will be doing their best at convincing legislators in Tallahassee, so will an army of scores of privately paid lobbyists who do not share our points of view and will be working in the opposite direction.

If you are acquainted with a legislator(s), go visit him or her; develop a friendly relationship if you don’t already have one.   The best place for the visit is likely to be in his or her district office either before the legislative session starts on January 10, or during the weekend in early January when the legislator has returned home.  In Tallahassee, circumstances are frequently hectic and the legislator’s time and attention are constrained.
Great Blue Heron
Crystal River, Florida
Vergara Photo Art

You may wish to show the legislator the Florida Conservation Coalition’s position papers.  The  Coalition is particularly interested in knowing the legislator’s attitude toward our concerns (opposed, non-committal, supportive); is the legislator willing to consider revisions to some of the changes made in 2011, and if so which changes?; did the legislator have questions or requests for further information, and if so, what were they?  Also, please secure the name of the legislative aide.

Report back the results of your meeting. If you use Facebook, we have a special place on our Facebook page where you can report on your efforts.  If you do not use Facebook, please report to the Florida Conservation Coalition via email:
connect@floridaconservationcoalition.org

I do not believe that letters are nearly as effective as personal contact, but if you cannot visit, please do write or email.  On request we can provide you with legislator contact information.

As an alternative, if you know someone who shares our concerns and has a personal or political relationship with a legislator, please provide us with his or her name and contact information, and we will follow up.

While every legislator is important and needs attention, some need extra attention.  Attached is a list of some of the key legislators (following this letter) who merit special attention.

In three short months of 2011, the Governor and Legislature set Florida’s once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades.  In so doing they have handed us a very heavy lift.  But what choices do we have?   We surrender, or we fight back.

I am privileged to be to working with you, the members of the Florida Conservation Coalition - people who love and care for the natural treasures of Our State.

Best wishes to you, your family and our blessed Florida for the Holiday Season and the New Year,

Bob Graham     



KEY LEGISLATORS
SENATE:

Don Gaetz (R), Next President, Niceville/Destin, Dist.# 850-897-5747, Tallah # 850-487-5009,  Budget and rules committees;  District address: 3400 Legendary Dr. Suite 230, Destin

Jack Latvala (R, St. Pete, Dist. # 727-3600, Tallah # 850-487-5075, Budget and Env. Preservation and Conserv. Committees; District address: 12425 28th St. N., Suite 102, St. Petersburg 

John Thrasher (R), Jacksonville, Dist. # 904-727-3600, Tallah # 850-487-5368, Budget committee, Rules) committee (chair); District address: 9485 Regency Sq. Blvd., Jacksonville

J. D. Alexander (R), Lake Wales, Dist. # 863-679-4851, Tallah # 850-487-5044, Budget committee (chair),  Rules committee (vice chair); District address: 201 Central Ave. W, City Hall Complex, Rm. 115, Lake Wales

Thad Altman (R), Melbourne, Dist # 321-752-3138, Tallah # 850-487-5053; District address: 6767 N. Wickham Rd., Suite 211, Melbourne

Charles "Charlie" Dean (R), Inverness, Dist. # 352- 860-5175 (Inverness), 352-873-6513 (Ocala), Tallah # 850-487-5017, Env. Pres. and Conserv. Committee (chair); District address: 405 Tompkin St., Inverness

Andy Gardiner (R), Orlando, Majority leader, Dist. # 407-428-5800, Tallah # 850-487-5047, Budget and Rules committees; District address: 1013 E. Michigan St., Orlando

Nan Rich (D), Minority leader, Sunrise, Dist. # 954-747-7933, Tallah # 850-487-5103, Budget and Env. Pres. and Conserv. Committees; District address: 777 Sawgrass Corporate Pkwy., Sunrise 

HOUSE:

Dean Cannon (R), Speaker, Winter Park, Dist. # 407-623-5740, Tallah # 850-488-2742; District address: 1992 Mizell Ave., Winter Park

Will Weatherford (R), Next Speaker, Wesley Chapel, Dist. # 813-558-5115; 28963 SR-54, Suite A, Wesley Chapel

Steve Crisafulli (R), Merritt Is., Dist. # 321-449-5111, Tallah # 850-488-4669. Ag. and N.R. S/C (chair) and Ag. and N.R Approp S/C (chair); District address: 2460 N. Courtenay Pkwy., Suite 108, Merritt Island

Gayle Harrell (R), Port St. Lucie, Dist. # 772-398-2786, Tallah # 850-488-8749, Approp. s/c;  District address: 2212 SE Veterans Memorial Pkwy., Port St. Lucie

Trudi Williams (R), Ft. Myers, Dist. # 239-433-6775, Tallah # 850-488-2047. Select Committee on Water Policy (chair) and Ag. and N.R. Approp s/c (chair); District address: 12811 Kenwood Lane, Suite 212, Ft. Myers

Ray Pilon (R), Sarasota, Dist. # 941-955-8077, Tallah # 850-488-7754, Sel. Comm. on Water Policy,  Ag. and N.R. s/c, Ag. and NR Approp. s/c; District address: 1600 Ringling Blvd., Suite 310-311, Sarasota

Dana Young (R), Tampa, Dist. # 813-835-2270, Tallah. # 950-488-2770; District address: 2909 W. Bay to Bay Blvd., Suite 202, Tampa

Debbie Mayfield (R), Vero Bch. Dist. # 772-778-5077, Tallah # 850-488-0952; District address: 1053 20th Place, Vero Beach

Franklin Sands (D), Sunrise, Dist. # 954-44-6800, Tallah # 850-488-0590, Sel. Comm. on Water Policy, Ag.and N.R. Comm., Approp. Comm.; District address: 777 Sawgrass Corporate Pkwy, Sunrise

Ron Saunders (D) Minority leader, Key West,  Dist. # 305-853-1947, Tallah # 950-488-9965. Appropriations committee; District address: Suite A – 90311 Overseas Hwy., Tavernier

Steve Perman (D), Boca Raton, Dist. # 561-470-6596, Tallah @ 850-488-5588, Sel. Comm. on Water Policy, Ag. and N.R s/c, Ag. and N.R Approp. s/c; District address: The Shoppes at Boca Greens, 19635 S. SR-7, Unite 43, Boca Raton

Denise Grimsley (R), Sebring, Dist. # 863-675-5267, Tallah # 850-488-3457, Approp. Comm. (Chair), Joint Legis. Budget Comm. (Chair); District address: 205 S. Commerce Ave., Suite B, Sebring

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Do your County Commissioners know what SWFWMD has taken from them?

How many times have you thrown something away only to realize a week later that what you thought you no longer wanted is exactly what you now need?  How many times have you groaned over how much more you’ll have to pay to replace it than its original cost?  And -- be honest now -- how many times have you denied (to yourself and others) how stupid, shortsighted, myopic, and unthinking you felt for doing something you later realized was just plain wrong?
If you say, never, speaking truthfully is probably not one of your stronger suits … but, hey, join the crowd.  It’s the political season.
Last spring, under a deluge of ignorance and arrogance released from T-Town and in a frenzy to help the new governor look like he knew what he was doing, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District tossed on the garbage heap eight of its most valuable resource management tools along with some 30 or 40 of its most effective, unpaid community voices. 
Saying an estimated expense of $400,000 per year was too much to support its eight basin boards, the big board booted them from the district’s headquarters south of Brooksville without so much as a whisper or fare-thee-well to the dozens of cities and counties they served.  Even $300,000 was too much to pay, they said, out of an annual budget that at one time exceeded $300,000,000.  The district needed to cut irrelevant and unnecessary costs, they said.
For fifty years unpaid, volunteer basin board members vetted the district’s projects providing the governing board valuable guidance and local insight as well as garnering critically important community support for levying a property tax to fund them.  Appointed by the governor, they also provided an important avenue of communications for the governor to personally touch dozens of communities within the 16 counties of SWFWMD, and for those same communities to let the governor know when he was doing good and when he wasn’t.  Only a very na├»ve, unwise and terribly misguided politician would let something so valuable be so arrogantly discarded, and, yet, this is exactly what Rick Scott did.
At its meeting in November, SWFWMD’s governing board began the touchy process of developing policies and processes that will be needed to, 1) sort through an estimated 120 projects submitted by local governments for the 2012 local project cooperative funding program, 2) analyze the necessity for each project so priorities could be set, 3) develop local support of those specifically desired by the district, 4) gain support for levying the property taxes needed to fund those chosen, 5) develop an accounting procedure that will assure former basin funds currently in reserve will be spent only on behalf of the former basin’s geographic area, 6) develop another accounting procedure that will assure tax revenues will be spent equitably throughout the district for multiple projects, etc. , etc. 
In other words, they were trying to develop policies and processes to do exactly what the basin boards had been doing for 50 years before they were summarily abolished last spring.
The irony of the discussion was obviously missed by the presumably, smart and well-intentioned but thoroughly inexperienced governing board members as they spent nearly two hours trying to reinvent from scratch what they had so unthinkingly destroyed a few months earlier.
They talked about how they should perhaps divide the district into smaller areas in order to facilitate “local input.”  Some suggested using county boundaries but it was noted that watershed or “aguafer” (sic) boundaries made more sense, like the river watershed boundaries upon which the basin boards were designed.
They talked about creating citizen’s advisory committees and governing board sub-committees to seek public input, in order to replace the regional forums so effectively provided by the basin boards.
They talked about how to set up a new bookkeeping system in order to insure project costs reflected a commensurate benefit to the taxpayers paying for them, like that which the basin boards had once so effectively provided but are no longer.
They talked about how current reserves left over from the dismantled basin boards should be spent to benefit the basins from which the taxes were originally generated, like it was done routinely before the basin boards were declared too bothersome, cumbersome and unnecessary to keep around.
They talked about how the meetings should be held at various locations around the district to insure locals could have convenient access to the process and their voices fully heard, exactly like it was being accomplished by the basin boards.
They talked about needing to make sure the meetings were properly advertised so locals would know when and where they would be held as required by law, which was already being accomplished by the basin boards but which was terminated when they were abolished.
They talked further about how the staff would also need to do this, and the staff would also need to do that to insure everyone felt invited and to be a participant rather than just invited to attend, like the staff did for the basin boards before they were abolished.
But no one spoke of the expense of doing all this which was beginning to sound a whole lot like the $300,000-$400,000 they had so feverish tried to save by doing away with the basin boards in the first place.
BUT more importantly …  they did not talk about the inescapably ugly little truth that once the reserves left over from the former basin boards are extinguished, there will be no legal requirement that will insure taxes levied within a given basin will be spent back within that basin, like only the existence of basin boards can guarantee. 
They did not mention that sub-committees comprised of a couple of governing board members, or citizen advisory committees comprised of residents chosen by the governing would not be able to provide this important legal requirement that was lost when the basin  boards were abolished.
This was the folly and the blatant subterfuge of the whole discussion.
Either the board was extraordinarily clever at camouflaging the issue or they themselves failed to see the significance and sad irony of it.  I suspect it was the latter. 
Commissioner Charlie Stone,
Marion County BOCC
Marion County Assistant County Administrator, M. Stuart McElhaney, apparently had no awareness of this important point when he approached the podium to read a letter signed by Marion County Commission Chairman, Charlie Stone.  The letter urged the GB to recognize and continue the district’s long tradition of seeking local input for developing and cooperatively funding so many projects that were needed by both the district and the county.  In fact, he said the county would support the committee concept and noted the commission felt the board was doing a good job! 
He obviously had no idea that by abolishing the basin boards and assuming control of the basin taxes, the governing board had stripped away the fundamental legal requirement that basin taxes collected from Marion County would have to be spent back within the Withlacoochee River Basin of which Marion County is a part.
That part of the story was never mentioned or acknowledged.  After the current reserves are gone, Marion County will have to compete against projects from the district’s other 15 counties to get funding for its projects, no matter that basin taxes collected from within Marion County would be involved.
Do you think Chair Charlie knew this when he signed the letter?
Do any of the other commissioners know that by doing away with the Withlacoochee Basin Board the governing board has stripped away Marion County’s only statutory guarantee that the basin taxes formerly levied within Marion County would be spent within the basin and by doing so, county taxes can now be spent elsewhere, like in Polk County to pay for Polk’s future water supply needs estimated by the district to cost some $320,000,000?
(This $320M figure, new to me, was offered by Kurt Fritsch during the discussion to point out that there were still plenty of water supply projects needed within the district pursuant to the district’s own Regional Water Supply Plan.)
I wonder if all those fiscal conservatives who attended the CEO-governor’s budget announcement party last year in The Villages know their property taxes can now be shuffled off to J. D. Alexander’s back yard for Polk’s needs and diverted from Lake County’s.  Do they realize the chairman of SWFWMD, Paul Senft, is from Polk County?  Maybe someone needs to talk to governing board member Doug Tharp who lives in The Villages and supposedly represents Marion County.  You think?  Maybe he’d be a little more interested in why the basin boards existed in the first place and what they did for the district that he’s now trying to replicate. 

Commissioners
Robin DiSabatino, Joe McClash, Carol Whitmore, Donna Hayes, John Crappie, Larry Bustle, Michael Gallen 
Manatee County BOCC
  Manatee County Utilities Director, Mark Simpson, then stepped to the podium and, inexplicably, did the same thing.  He noted how important local input is and how project parity for levied taxes was so important and how the “committees” were a “good compromise” because committees allowed local input. 
He did not point out how the governing board’s destruction of the basin boards removed the statutory guarantee that taxes levied in the Manasota Basin were required to be spent on projects there and no such constraint exists for board sub-committees or citizen advisory committees.  Does the Manatee County Commission know this?  Do my friends, Commissioners Joe McClash, Donna Hayes, Carol Whitmore and Larry Bustle, know this?  Or the other commissioners I might meet one day: Robin DiSabatino, John Chappie and Michael Gallen?
I wonder if my own commissioners from Hernando County realize this: Dave Russell, Jeff Stabins, John Druzbick, James Adkins, Wayne Dukes.

Commissioners
Dave Russell, Jeff Stabins, John Druzbick, James Adkins, Wayne dukes
Hernando County BOCC
And what about my friends on the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners: Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Al Higginbotham, Ken Hagan, and Les Miller.  I wonder if they’re aware that the (former) Hillsborough River Basin Board right now has $28.5 million ($27 million in reserve and $1.5 million as balance forward) for projects within that basin?  Most of it generated to co-fund a badly needed stormwater project for south Tampa but scuttled by former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.  
Do they realize that after those funds are gone, the same ad valorem taxes from Hillsborough and the City of Tampa can be used to build a $320M project in Polk County if this is what the governing board chooses to do?
I wonder if friends from some of the other 16 counties within SWFWMD know this like: Commissioners Susan Latvala and Karen Seel from Pinellas County, Ann Hildebrand from Pasco County, Rebecca Bays and Joe Meek from Citrus County, Nora Patterson and Jon Thaxton from Sarasota County. (Pinellas County has $21.3 million ($13.5 million in reserve and $7.8 million as balance forward) for projects within the (former) Pinellas-Anclote Basin.
Here’s the point: when all that money is burned off, any basin funds raised afterward from the taxpayers of any of these counties for water projects can be designated for “regional” projects outside their county.
So here’s something for you and your commissioners to consider.   A thoughtful resolution from your Board of County Commissioners might be able to bring some reason to this unreasonable scenario.  If they were to pass such a resolution and send it to their respective county legislative delegations, perhaps the legislature can bring about a return of the basin boards that, in some reasonable form, would reflect the current objectives of the SWFWMD governing board and the original valid and now recognized roles of the former basin boards.
Here’s a draft resolution that might be considered:

RESOLUTION NO. __________
RESOLUTION OF THE ___­­­­­­­­­­_________________  BOARD OF COUNTY
 COMMISSIONERS OF ___­­­­­­­­­­_________________ COUNTY

WHEREAS, the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board created basin Boards in 1961 to insure property taxes collected within nine river basins defined by law for water management purposes would be expended only for purposes benefitting those respective basins; and,

WHEREAS, rule 40D-0.061, Florida Administrative Code, provides legal descriptions of the basins within the Southwest Florida Water Management District; and,
WHEREAS, basin board members were unpaid volunteers appointed by the Governor from each county wholly or partly within the basin thereby assuring each county had a voice in identifying the projects needed and the amount of taxes to be levied; and,
WHEREAS the duties of the Basin Board members included developing a budget to provide funding for the water resource projects they deemed would benefit, directly or indirectly, their basin; and,
WHEREAS, each board member was subject to the taxes levied by the basin board of which he or she was a member; and,
WHEREAS, the Governing Board of the District is prohibited from levying the taxes of the basin as long as the basin board exists and when the Basin Board develops a budget for its basin; and,
WHEREAS, on June 1, 2011, the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board officially “merged” the Basin Boards of the district into one large basin with the same boundaries as the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and
WHEREAS, subsequently the Governing Board disbanded all the basin boards and released their members from further service; and,
WHEREAS, the Governing Board then designated itself as the new District-wide Basin Board thereby transferring ad valorem taxing capacity of the Basin Boards to the District Governing Board; and,
WHEREAS, this action was not announced on a published agenda and was taken without a good faith effort by the District to notify interested citizens who might have had concerns about such action, and;
WHEREAS, by disbanding the Basin Boards, the Governing Board will now assume responsibility for adopting a single budget for all the Basins collectively as one single Basin and levy a Basin tax uniformly for the single Basin; and,
WHEREAS, by doing so any taxes thus levied will no longer be controlled by local residents and could be spent anywhere in the district at the discretion of the Governing Board with no requirement that taxes levied within a particular river basin will benefit that particular basin as it was conceived by the original laws creating the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and,
WHEREAS the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board will no longer be able to provide assurance that taxes collected from within a given Basin’s boundaries would be spent for purposes benefiting only that respective basin; and,
WHEREAS, more specifically, no sub-committee of the governing board or any citizens advisory committee created by the governing board can guarantee that basin taxes must be spent within the river basin from which they came; and,
WHEREAS until they were disbanded by the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Basin Boards served faithfully and efficiently in the interest of their basins for over fifty years;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the ________________ County Board of County Commissioners does hereby direct the following:
1.     That, the Governing Board of Southwest Florida Water Management District be requested to reestablish Basin Board’s within the District that will function as they have in the past to assure local taxes will be spent from within the area they were collected for purposes that benefit only that area; and,
2.     That, the Basins and Basin Boards so reestablished will number no less than three in number and be representative of no less that the northern portion, middle portion and southern portion of the District; and,
3.     That, each county lying wholly or partly within a basin be represented by no less than one member on the Basin Board; and,
4.     That, the Basin Boards be provided by law no less than the same budgetary and taxing authority that they held before they were disbanded; and,
5.     That, a copy of this resolution be sent to Governor Rick Scott along with a cover letter urging him to affirm his support of this resolution to the Chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and making appropriate appointments to the  Basin Boards upon becoming reestablished; and,
6.     That, a copy of this resolution be sent to each member of the county’s legislative delegation asking that the delegation draft and support a legislative mandate to the Southwest Florida Water Management District that the basins be re-established accordingly.
PASSED AND DULY ADOPTED by the Board of County Commissioners of _____________ County, Florida this ____ day of _________________, 20__.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Tampa Tribune Editorial: Water stewardship economic driver


Published: December 09, 2011
Water stewardship economic driver
By TBO.com
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is up to its neck in financial woes, and while severe cutbacks are necessary, Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers should be prepared to throw a lifeline. Its stewardship is critical to the state's economic growth.
As the Tribune's Keith Morelli reports, reduced tax revenues resulting from lower property values and cuts by the Legislature and Scott have reduced the regional water district's budget almost by half.
The district, commonly called Swiftmud, is using reserves to carry on critical responsibilities, such as cleaning rivers and lakes, helping agriculture reduce groundwater use and developing alternative water sources.
The money will run out within a couple of years, and then much of the district's vital water protection functions will be compromised.
Already the district has virtually halted land acquisition and now is looking at selling land.
All this should be intensely troubling to anyone who cares about Florida's future.
Florida can't grow without clean and abundant water sources. And it won't prosper if it wrecks its natural beauty.
Swiftmud's water controls have helped the region meet the water demands of a growing population while protecting critical resources. Its land conservation preserves beautiful stretches of wilderness that provide key wildlife habitat and offer countless recreational opportunities.
These lands also buffer rivers, springs, lakes and bays from polluting runoff. They avert costly flooding projects by preventing construction in flood-prone areas. Land purchases prevent harmful development without property rights disputes.
Yet some politicians act as if conserving land is a waste of money. That is a shortsighted attitude that will prove costly to taxpayers and the environment. Scott, to his credit, provides $15 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program in this year's budget. It's a minimal amount but shows the state intends to keep the effort alive even during these tough times.
We don't suggest that Swiftmud and the other four state water districts be exempt from serious cuts. Like many state agencies, they grew accustomed to a heavy flow of tax dollars during the boom years.
New Southwest Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory now is seeking to wring every possible efficiency from operations.
It should be a beneficial exercise for taxpayers and the agency, as long as the district's water-protection mission remains the priority.
Similarly, selling some land of limited environmental value may be appropriate, particularly if the district sells it with restrictions that will prevent harmful uses. But such transactions deserve the utmost scrutiny.
The better approach is to encourage more public use of the land, which the district has emphasized in recent years. It offers an excellent guidebook detailing all the land available for hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing and other activities. Officials also are right to pursue expanded use, particularly hunting, which is prohibited at many sites. It can be managed so it has little impact on the land or other users.
Hunters — outdoor enthusiasts — should be natural allies of the district's conservation work. In these financially difficult times Swiftmud needs all the advocates it can get.
The painful austerity steps the district is undergoing now may result in a leaner more efficient operation. But voters should watch to ensure the district's critical stewardship responsibilities are not crippled.
A Florida that doesn't invest in safeguarding its natural riches will soon find itself wanting for water and economic opportunities.


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