Friday, December 21, 2012

What one does not deserve, one should not be given

Anymore, all you can do is shake your head at how inept our CEO governor is at doing anything, especially anything that could be called leadership.  Even when his handlers tell him what to say and how to say it, he screws it up.

If you were watching CNN Wednesday morning (2012.12.19), no doubt you were rolling your eyes with embarrassment at how Florida’s ersatz governor fumbled his responses on national television to CNN anchor, Soledad O’Brien, when she asked for his ideas regarding the despicable and irrational carnage at Newtown and how he might be willing to change the state’s gun control laws.  You can see what he had to say, or more accurately what he didn’t say, at this link:
For a sense of how the conversation went and O’Brien’s frustration at how vacuous the governor’s responses were, here’s an excerpt:
O’BRIEN: Well, you know, I understand that people often say that in the wake of a tragedy, let’s wait, and I actually think I’ve covered enough of them that, you know, we’ll wait until we bump up against the next tragedy … and there will be one, no doubt about it. I guess I would like to hear from elected officials what are you willing to change? [...]
SCOTT: Right now, what we ought to be doing -  let’s talk about all of the issues and think about what we can do to improve it - but here is what I think: one, I have been to the law enforcement funeral desk in our state - and the heart goes out to those families. [...]
O’BRIEN: Okay. I think with all due respect, are you not going to answer my question, because I guess — I just want you to tell me what you would be comfortable to support, and I get it, it will be part of a conversation, but I think there have been a number of things on the table and I don’t feel like you’re telling me, you know, should people not be able to buy high-capacity magazines? What are you willing to say would be a good start - that would you bring to the table in control? Any conversation about guns?
SCOTT: Well, you know, my focus is, one, respect the families, mourn their losses - make sure our schools are safe - and then start the conversation and listen to the Floridians. What I do every day is travel the state, almost, pretty much every day, and listen to Floridians and get their ideas and then come back, based on those ideas of what we can improve.
O’BRIEN: Well, I hope it all goes — all those conversations turn into meaningful conversations before I get to go out and cover another tragedy of which we’ve now done a bunch of them.
But you really need to watch the video.  It was clear he simply has no clue what he should or should not do or say as the highest elected leader of this country’s third most populated state... except travel around it “almost every day” and ask “the Floridians” what they think about assault rifles and killing innocent children.
Along with all the other gaffs we’ve witnessed by Scott, we can only lament his ineptness at successfully effectuating anything pertaining to responsible leadership.  Looking at what he tries to do and not at what he tries to say, one can only conclude that it’s not the people or the state’s long term future he has in his CEO mind, but immediate profits for private business, which, I agree, is not necessarily a bad thing unless the latter is given priority over the former.  But even if you believe private profit is more important than public interest, you are probably feeling as I do that he’s becoming more than an embarrassment due to his lack of ability to formulate cogent, extemporaneous thought.  
Surely, his image managers briefed him on O’Brien’s tenacious style and the fact that she doesn’t suffer fools before he set foot on her show.  If they did - presuming they were not advising him to be as opaque as he was - he must not have understood or appreciated what they were telling him. 
As governor of our state, surely he might at least have had the frijoles to display a little leadership by sharing a few personal thoughts with the nation about matters of such tragic consequence.  But he just didn’t have anything in mind or, perhaps, any ability to express it coherently.
As a result, embarrassment is the feeling Florida voters, both D’s and R’s, are whispering about these days, and more and more are beginning to admit it.

According to a poll released yesterday by The Quinnipiac University Poll, “Voters say 55 - 29 percent, including 53 - 30 percent among Republicans, they would like another candidate to challenge Gov. Scott for the GOP nomination for governor in 2014 …”

In the release, Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute is quoted saying, "Gov. Rick Scott's ratings with voters are just plain awful. The numbers cannot be sugar-coated … When voters in a politician's own party want him to be challenged in a primary by another candidate, it's difficult to see it as anything but outright rejection.”

According to the poll’s findings: “Florida voters disapprove 45 - 36 percent of the job Gov. Rick Scott is doing, continuing his almost two-year run of negative scores, and, as he enters the second half of his term, voters say 52 - 30 percent that he does not deserve a second four-year term ...”

And, my mother always said, “What one does not deserve, one should not be given.”


Speaking of receiving what one deserves, here’s hoping each and every one of you - D’s, I’s, R’s, NPA’s and, yes, even you teabaggers - all experience a wonderful Holiday Season and that you and those near and dear to you - including those who aren’t very - stay safe and warm. 

Happy New Year! May you each experience a better economy in the coming days and that not one more American Military Service life is lost to violence on foreign soil for the sake of our freedom which we shamelessly so take for granted.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

PEER blasts DEP manager's "shockingly draconian" actions

The following news release was published by the organization, Public Employees for EnvironmentalResponsibility (PEER).  It is reprinted here in the interest of taking advantage of every opportunity to make the public aware of the moronic and inept management decisions being made by the non-professional politicos of the Rick Scott administration.  The dismantling of Florida’s mantle of protection for its unique and fragile natural environmental continues unabated.  We should be asking ourselves, how much more damage might he and his minions reap in the remaining two years of his first disastrous term in office and will the state ever be able to recover?
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Staff Told to “Demonstrate Job Creation” as Colleagues Escorted Out of Building
Tallahassee —The Scott administration has begun laying off environmental employees in a shockingly draconian fashion, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides mass firings, state officials are abolishing scores of vacant positions, making it impossible to counter accumulated attrition at a time when environmental performance is already plummeting.
During the past few weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) –
·       Fired 25 employees in the Southwest District Office in Tampa and eliminated 14 vacant positions, thus shrinking the workforce by more than a quarter;

·       Axed 15 employees in the Tallahassee Division of Water Resources while abolishing another 24 vacancies. One manager was fired because he refused to terminate an employee who was ill; and

·       Has told other districts to brace for further “changes.”
The harsh manner of the firings is also striking. In the Tampa office, all 150 district employees were told to pack up their personal belongings and put them in their cars because 25 of them would be fired the next day. They were then told to return to their stations and work the rest of the day. The next day 25 of them were summarily fired and immediately escorted from the building. The surviving employees were then told to retrieve their personal belongings and return to work as if nothing had happened.
DEP deputy secretary
Jeff Littlejohn
“This is no way to treat employees, let alone career public servants,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “These callous and needlessly cruel tactics suggest a staggering level of managerial incompetence.”
These moves are being orchestrated by Jeff Littlejohn, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, who has also issued new personnel “criteria” which, among other things –
·       Link any pay raise to a cost savings, thus giving DEP supervisors a bonus only if they fire staff;

·       Require any DEP vacancies first be outsourced to private industry before considering refilling;
·       And Forbid any hiring at all unless deemed “Mission Critical.”
While supervisors are being rewarded for finding creative ways to fire employees, those DEP employees who survive the purge are being directed to drum up instances of how they have achieved “job creation” and cost savings for regulated industries.
“This is supposed to be an environmental agency, not a satellite office for Bain Capital,” Phillips added, noting that basic enforcement of anti-pollution laws in Florida has nose-dived during Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, according to an analysis of agency figures. “DEP has been through some tough times before but employees are saying that this is the absolute pits.”
PEER is also pursuing complaints against both DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and Littlejohn for violating federal conflict of interest prohibitions due to their prior corporate environmental work. At DEP, corporations that run into environmental trouble have been able to go to both men to obtain “resolution” of their situations.

Contact: Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337


Saturday, November 10, 2012

"When you hear hoofbeats behind you, expect to see a horse, not a zebra.”

In an earlier SWFWMDmatters blog post, I wrote about the dilemma surrounding the status of an ailing, iconic Silver Springs and a water use permit being sought by a proposed 10,000 acre, 30,000 cattle, feeding operation that would take another 13.2 million gallons every day (annual daily average) from the same aquifer “springshed” that feeds the main spring.
The status of the spring system at that time was historic.  In the many years records have been kept of the spring’s flow, there is no record that documents the spring flow as ever to have fallen to the level it was at that time, approximately 50% of its historic long term average.  It seemed sharply plain to most that taking more water from its source, especially an amount that is even greater than that which City of Ocala now takes, would surely have an undesirable impact upon the springs’ already dangerously low flow.
Since then, the St. Johns River Water Management District has scrambled to put together a position that would legally, scientifically and politically justify the issuance or denial of the requested permit.  Wanting to avoid being accused of thinking only inside that proverbial box, the staff came upon a theory that at best can only be described as novel because it flies in the face of what most would consider reasonable thinking. 
Hal Wilkening, P. E.
In a recent report to his governing board, district staff engineer, Hal Wilkening, suggested that the reduced flow was possibly due to plant growth which, acting as a dam, was backing water up over the springs’ vents and slowing their collective discharge.  He also surmised that the accumulating slimy algae that’s killing the natural eel grass in Silver River was not due to the tons of nitrates leeching into the subterranean spring water from a host of manmade sources but due to low rainfall.

Rather than me trying to explain just how bizarre this concept is, you will likely have greater interest reading the thoughts of Charles Lee.  As most of you know Charles is the widely known and a highly respected voice on many issues for Florida Audubon, especially on legislative matters.  He’s the organization’s Director of Advocacy/Regional Director.  With his permission, here’s what he wrote recently in an email:
Interestingly, this (concept) was presented in much more tentative terms to the board, but is trumpeted here in SJRWMD propaganda as the “Ah, Ha” answer to the decrease in flow at Silver Springs.
Wilkening advanced the theory that vegetation growing in Silver Springs Run and the Ocklawaha River have created a backwater effect, raising water levels in the spring run and therefore creating a hydrostatic head that they claim is suppressing the amount of water coming out of the spring. The amount of water level increase they claim is about .9 foot. The amount of decline in springflow claimed because of this is 100 to 120 CFS. (Note, even if a 100 to 120 CFS decline resulted from increased water levels, Silver Springs is still flowing about 300 CFS less than what would be expected after this summer of extraordinary rains. Flow figures from the 1960s and 1970s would have this spring producing over 1000 CFS after the rainfall we have had recently, and it is only flowing around 600 CFS).
The theory is not without some scientific basis. However, to have publically advanced it at the board meeting, and then trumpeting it here without some peer review and more detailed analysis is, frankly, irresponsible. Had some environmental group presented conclusions like this, Ed de la Parte would have been screaming “JUNK SCIENCE”! Instead, he was sitting in the audience smiling.  For example, one of the tests that they could have performed would have been a statistical analysis of variance in flows from historic norms at times when the water levels in the Silver Run and the Ocklawaha have been distinctly BELOW normal during the past 12 years. That data is readily available, but (conveniently) is not provided.
 The observations about aquatic vegetation growth in Silver Run and the Ocklawaha were tied to drought conditions and not attributed to nitrates. The story according to Wilkening is that lower flows from the chain of lakes down the Ocklawaha produced less brown colored water moving downstream and that in turn allowed greater aquatic vegetation growth because of  increased light penetration. The weeds hold water back in his view, raising the water level therefore pressing down on the spring and reducing flow.
Along with that analysis, Wilkening produced a chart with three monitoring wells near Silver Springs. Two of the wells showed about a .5 foot average decline over the last 12 years, and one showed a water level that did not change. From that, Wilkening told the board that there had been no decline in aquifer levels, therefore a decline in aquifer levels could not have caused spring reductions over the past 12 years…HMM  two wells show a distinct decline, one does not, and that means no change…. Interesting way of looking at math.
I was able to take the graph that other members of the SJRWMD staff had used during the morning session to give the aquifer level readings in the monthly hydrological report to show that even with the huge rainfall amounts since June, the aquifer levels throughout the Silver Springs springshed and in N.E. Florida generally remain at distinctly abnormal low levels. I also questioned picking out just three wells and drawing broad conclusions from them rather than looking at a much bigger data set about aquifer levels which was readily available.  Finally, Guy Marwick of the Felburn Foundation pointed out to the board that the high water levels claimed by Wilkening were really not historically high. The gift shop and walkways at Silver Springs flooded on numerous occasions when springflow at its peak produced very high water levels in decades gone by.  
I characterized Wilkening’s presentation, with an old medical adage, as a “zebra diagnosis”.   ("When you hear hoofbeats behind you, expect to see a horse, not a zebra). 

Well said, Charles.  Thanks.
It’ll be interesting to see where the district technical staff go with this.  As mentioned, they have a task that will require them to make the science legally defensible in the face of an ill political wind that is saying, “Issue a permit or you may find your job in jeopardy.” 

Not likely?  Ask Connie Bersok.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anonymous insider's report on what's happening at DEP, Tallahassee

This post provides an anonymous, insider’s look at what’s happening at the DEP headquarters in Tallahassee.  What’s taking place and how it is happening is pathetic.  There are so many more professional and humane ways to carry out a reduction in force than the vicious, unthinking Neanderthal tactics of this administration.  It is a dreadful reflection of their lack of management experience and sole focus on getting rid of institutional memory, dedicated and seasoned staffers and professional competence in favor of friends, politics and cementing their control of a public agency through fear and intimidation.
Typically, such anonymous comments are appended to the post to which they refer but this comment seemed more insightful and relevant than usual and so I am taking the liberty of publishing it as an actual post.  The unknown writer was obviously present when the events he/she describes took place and wants you, the reader, to know about it.  Here it is:
How the firings occurred in the Tallahassee HQ office is also a matter of discussion. The entire division of Water Resource Management was called into a meeting by the deputy Secretary, who gave a Powerpoint presentation of the "reorganization". During the presentation, firing numbers for the individual sections were given out, and the drinking water administrator - who had two more years left in DROP - was told he was removed in front of the whole division. One fired employee was involved at the time in the Emergency Operations Center for Hurricane Sandy, and was no longer able to access his computer for important emergency operations, since the mindless Nazis locked him out. The Drinking Water Administrator was replaced by a recent hiree of his from the private sector, who managed to cozy up the Deputy Secretary. The hatchet person was another hiree from the private sector only about three months earlier. It is clear the original people who worked for less pay than their private sector counterparts for years because they cared for Florida's degrading environment were replaced, including Secretary Mimi Drew when Scott assumed the throne, for his and his cronies selfish interests.
Like I said … pathetic.  
How long and how deep is this unmitigated effort to destroy responsible environmental management in the State of Florida going to be allowed to continue? 
Where is the outrage of our elected officials? Among all the people they are charged to represent, public service employees should not be excluded. 
Someone needs to step up and start asking pointed questions like: How is this kind of behavior going to improve the efficiency of the organization? Have they gone too far for some very wrong purposes? Is Florida's natural environment, and thus its economy, being placed at risk by the systematic destruction of the agency’s ability to carry out its duties as prescribed by law? Is this what the voting public of Florida truly wants and expects?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Scott swings vicious slingblade at DEP’s Tampa Office

In my 50-plus years of being a working bloke just trying to keep grits on the table, I have never heard of anything like what happened in Tampa this week at DEP’s southwest district office.
Everyone knows about the deep recession we’re in and the impact it has had on us all.  In the private sector, jobs have been lost by the millions, incomes have been cut, businesses have been lost, entire industries have had to shrink and the country itself is on the economic ropes.

I don’t know anyone who believes that government should hold some kind of exception to the need to reduce its cost and size to reflect the reduced demand for public services.  So when there is a quest to reduce the size and cost of the regulatory functions of the water management districts and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, most reasonable people, rightly, would not object.
It is only when we see that quest being executed in ways that are not reasonable or appropriate that we need to stand up.  My last post was out of concern that the water management districts have been cut too deeply.  Today’s is about the vicious and hurtful way Scott and his minions carried out the firing of 25 hapless staffers at DEP’s Tampa office this week.

It was not the fact that Scott determined the staff and budgets of DEP’s district offices needed to be reduced; it’s how they did it.  Herding approximately 150 staffers into a hastily called and otherwise unannounced 15-minute meeting, and telling them all to go back to their offices and pack their personal belongings because 25 of them were going to be fired the next day?  What in the world are they smoking in T-Town? 

Whoever came up with this strategy ought to be tarred and feathered and rode the length of Apalachee Parkway on a rail.
I hear the whole thing went down something like this.  After Scott successfully purchased the governor’s seat for over $70 million of his own dollars, he determined all of state government should be structured such that no manager should have responsibility for less than seven people.  This was the stricture Herschel Vinyard told his henchman, Jeff Littlejohn, to apply as he restructured the department’s regional district offices.  So Littlejohn, with Vinyard’s obvious blessing, hatched a plan for realigning supervisory roles and responsibilities starting at the Tampa district office and getting rid of 39 employees of that office’s 150 or so employees.  (Note: Since 14 of those positions were unfilled, the number of on-staff employees to be fired was actually 25.)

Never mind that none of these Tallahassee geniuses ever had any experience at managing a governmental regulatory agency.  The plan was to cross-train everybody so anyone could do anyone else’s job.  Sounds reasonable until one begins to realize just how technical and complex these jobs can be. 
History suggests trying to make the offices more efficient in this way will only insure unfortunate businesses and industries having to get permits will have to deal with staffers who are not familiar with all they need to be in order to do their job competently.  This makes for confusion, misdirection, and added expense for the applicant.  We know this because, as some might recall, it was tried back in the 1980’s.  But never mind any of that.

Here’s what I’m hearing took place.  Over the last few weeks and months, there were a series of emails and verbal messages to the staff intended to prepare them for what everyone pretty much expected anyway, i.e., a reasonable realignment and restructuring but little or no direct references to any reduction in force.  It was signaled all would be done by November 1.
Then last Tuesday, October 16, at 5:27 p.m., Tampa district director Mary Yeargan, announced to the general staff population via email that a meeting would be held the next morning at 9:00 a.m.  All field personnel were called in and everyone was mandated to be there. 

The meeting was called on such short notice that an administrative hearing which had been scheduled for months had to be canceled (or delayed or moved?) so all the district’s employees could be seated in the only auditorium large enough to hold them all.  And for the same reasons, the meeting was rushed.
During that 15 minute meeting, 150 or so employees, many of whom were career people who had worked in public service for decades, were told they were to go back to their offices, clear out all their personal belongings, put it into a box and … apparently … just go and stick it in a corner somewhere, and take it home with them after work. Unbelievably, they were expected to go back to work for the rest of the day and do their jobs as if all was normal.

They were also told that when they came back in the next morning, Thursday, 25 of them would be fired. 
This meeting occurred at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning.  One can only imagine how an organizational staff “family” of some 150 persons must have felt that night not knowing who, “if not me,” would be without jobs and incomes the next day.

Then on Thursday morning after the 25 expulsions, the remaining survivors, presumably, were to go back to their cars, retrieve the box of personal belongings they had removed the day before, forget what had just happened and become much more efficient model employees of Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard, and Jeff Littlejohn’s new order of good Florida government.
When Thursday morning arrived, I’ve heard the procedure went something like this.  Everyone went to their “offices,” actually just cubicles in most cases, and waited to be tapped on the shoulder.  The newly named managers grimly strolled about asking the unfortunates to follow them to a real office (with four walls) where, one by one, 25 of them were given a folder of information, about who-knows-what, and reminded that:

-        They were fired

-        They could not return to their cubicles, computers, etc.

-        They had to leave immediately

-        They could not stop to say good bye to anyone

-        They would be escorted out the front door

-        Arrangements would be made for them to come back into the office at night to pack up any remaining personal items.

-         Officers would be on site to keep matters under control
There were reports of both men and women crying in the halls; some because they had just received the word … some because they had just given the word.

The outrageous, incompetent, viciousness with which this near-fascist approach to management of real human beings in an American workplace simply cannot be ignored by other responsible, elected leaders … if there are any around.  Someone with authority (other than some retired blogger guy) has to speak up for the thousands of public employees who are being relentlessly attacked by the persons responsible for it all, i.e., Rick Scott, his henchmen Herschel Vinyard, Jeff Littlejohn, and others. Every one of them needs to be held personally accountable somehow for how they are treating real human beings this way.  Even animals housed at Hernando County’s animal services are treated better than the way Herschel Vinyard treated the DEP staff in Tampa this week.  There, hapless discarded animals simply get euthanized.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Florida’s Water Management Districts

There’s a continuing swirl of rumors about the number of layoffs looming at SWFWMD.  The rumor mill has had the number for some time now at 60 to 70 employees, mostly from the area known as administrative services.  Despite claims by administrator, Blake Guillory, that the real number will be closer to “only” 30, the angst and worry by the staff continues and there’s good reason why. They simply aren’t being told anything.
Apparently, the district’s current protocol is to let individual managers know who’s going to get the boot in their area only and not the havoc that’s happening in the department next door.  Staff members talk about how the only way they know what’s happening is by the grapevine or by calling someone’s extension only to be told they’ve been “disappeared.”
(Sorry. I should have referred to department as “bureau” which is what all water management districts now are required to label certain sections of their respective staffs.  This is all part of Tallahassee’s reformation of water management districts to insure they walk, talk and look like Tallahassee state agencies.  Our ersatz governor has embarked upon this quest for no apparent good reason except perhaps because someone told him at a briefing one time that all government in Florida needs to walk, talk and look like it does in Tallahassee because it’ll somehow create new jobs and make government more efficient.  Don’t know this for a fact but it sounds like something from the former chair of his transition team regulatory reform subcommittee who wields vast knowledge of all things governmental because he’s a lawyer.)
Of course there’s also Guillory’s Standard Format Tentative Budget dated August 16, 2012, for the district’s 2012-13 fiscal year (Sandspur obtained a PDF copy, apparently intended as a briefing document for legislative staff but no link at SWFWMD could be found).  A graphic on page 10 of the document clearly indicates his intention is to reduce the staff from the current targeted 2011-12 level of 764 “FTEs” to 617.  That’s a reduction of 147 employees, not 30 as Guillory claims, and it’s a lot more than the 60-70 swirling around in the district’s staff breakroom every day.
I don’t know the reasons for these discrepancies.  I just know they exist, that they shouldn’t, and that the management staff of the district has handled a perhaps justifiably appropriate reduction of staff in an inexcusably unprofessional, insensitive, and irrational manner.  But it’s not just management incompetence at the district’s executive level. 
This terrible situation can and should be laid directly at the feet of a totally insensitive, uninformed and completely ill-equipped board of governors.  Why in the world don’t the executive director and the board chair hold face to face staff briefings district-wide? Simply lay out the plan, offer up why they are doing what they’re doing, and make a good faith effort to be straight up with their staff, without platitudes like “getting the water right” and “returning to core mission” that demean the professionalism and intelligence of a dedicated staff.   
The real human beings that work at SWFWMD, and at all of the water management districts, are not ill-behaved immature work animals who must be herded and treated as unfeeling dumb beasts. They’re due respect and consideration for the position in which they find themselves.  In many instances, they have dedicated their careers and lives to providing the public of Florida a tremendously important service.  To deny them this respect violates every management principle in the book and reflects a level of cold insensitivity that cannot be justified or rationalized, politically, economically, or otherwise.
Sadly, SWFWMD has not been the only perpetrator of these absurdities. Each of the other four districts has similar stories, as well as DEP.   Fear and intimidation through control of information is the new protocol for Florida government.
Is it because the plan is being dictated by the governor’s Tallahassee minions who are deeply embroiled in remaking state government into a service for special interests? Is it because these farcical leaders of the current rid-us-of-all-things-governmental mantra can’t even articulate a rational defense for issuing a mitigation bank permit that is fraught with special interest bennies, like the Highlands Ranch Mitigation permit?  Is it because they are brazenly attempting to cleanse Florida’s environment regulatory agencies of anything smacking of technical talent and science-based resource management capability?  Are they doing this because the new natural resource management protocol is to manage by intimidation, fear and political influence?
Sure looks like it.
Use of the term, “justifiably” is not to say that what this governor is doing to decimate the capabilities of the most strategically needed government agencies of this state is in any way appropriate.  It is simply to recognize that the impact of a global recession upon this country has had a significant effect upon the need for governmental services and a reasonable response is to reduce the presence of government at every point where that need has declined.
The problem is that the appropriate level to which water management district staffs and services should have been reduced has been drastically exceeded, despite the claims by Herschel Vinyard and the nodding heads of the water management district governing boards that all is well.  The party line they incessantly spew is that they are, for the first time in Florida’s history, “getting the water right.”  What a load of propagandistic crap.  The State of Florida is going to be paying the price for such irresponsible nonsense for a very long time in a lot of different ways.
The result of this delirium will hang like the darkest of clouds over the morale and technical capabilities of the state’s five water management districts for years, if not permanently.  The state’s much-needed construct for water resource management, where the objective was always wherever possible to insure decisions were science-based and in the public interest, is already suffering. The game has clearly become a strategy of management by intimidation, fear and political influence.
JD Alexander, the not-so-behind-the-scenes real leader of the senate for the last few years, was the poster child for how to achieve this.  Alexander, along with cowboy-boot-wearing CEO Scott and DEP’s Herschel Vinyard of similar pointy-toed footwear, have already made the incredibly dumb decision over the last two legislative sessions to cut SWFWMD’s budget well into the bone. Tea baggers surely rejoiced, but the reality is that Scott and Alexander shot Alexander’s home county squarely in the gluteus maximus by doing so.
The cuts and revenue limitations they levied upon SWFWMD were so harsh, even Polk County commissioners were begging Alexander not to do it because the county is literally banking upon the property-tax payers of the district’s 16 counties to pay for its much-needed new county-wide water supply system.
Nevertheless, SWFWMD’s ambassadors-of-all-things-hunky-dory are smiling sweetly and saying not to worry because the legislature in 2012 gave the district the option of levying more property taxes should more dollars be needed for the project.
Fat chance, right?
Truth is, it was a tea bagger pandering frenzy led by Scott, Alexander and an army of lobbyists owned by special interests to cut the districts not only in staff and funding but in every other way they can find.  They are not stopping at what’s prudent.  It is a frenzy of destruction and punishment for one of the Florida’s most important functions.  Florida, a state of tremendous natural diversity and ecological sensitivity, stands to lose the very characteristics that make it one of the most unique and desirable places in the world to work, live and play.  We are witnessing the release of forces that could affect the future of this state in all respects for a very long time, and it isn’t good.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Will DEP's proposed new water permitting rules lead to hoarding and marketing Florida's water?

Our ersatz governor, who has yet to realize he’s running a government instead of a predatory corporation that collects hospitals and feeds on defrauding the federal government of the elderly’s Medicare money, is determined to revert Florida back to the time when environmental conscience was nonexistent.   Despite the flowery crap he spews about how focused he is on water and “getting it right,” he continues to have his DEP boy Vinyard direct the destruction of Florida’s environmental protection programs at every level.
As you might not know, DEP has drafted a comprehensive rewrite of the state’s administrative rules that, if adopted, will significantly change how consumptive use (water use) permits are issued under Chapter 373.  Vinyard and his minions advertise their purpose as needing to create a more common regulatory platform among the five water management districts so water applicants will not have five different processes to follow when seeking water use permits between districts.  Not an unreasonable concept (if one assumes there are a lot of applicants that have to go to more than one district for water permits).
Problem is, none of these clowns were around over the past 40 years it took to develop the current rules which have been recognized nationwide as an equitable and effective way to allow water to be used in ways that are fair among existing and future users and the needs of natural systems.  Consequently, they seem absurdly determined to dredge up problems that were solved years ago by a lot of very brilliant folks, including governors and legislators from both parties and scientists of national repute.  By tweaking good solutions to complex problems they are only trying to make a round wheel more round.  It would be pure silliness if it were not so sinister and costly in its result.
What is so wrong with all this is that their collective justification for undertaking this Quixotic thrust is based upon clearing the path for businesses to be able to make more profits.  They simply will not accept the unalterable fact that some of this state’s most prosperous times took place when environmental regulation was at its most inflexible and rigid best.  So, there just has to be more to it.
(It’s worth noting that during Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the RNC in recent weeks, he echoed a lot of Scott-speak, like getting rid of job-killing regulations and creating jobs in numbers only he can make happen.  Florida has always been a bellwether state so if you like what Scott’s doing here, vote for Romney and the whole country will be handed over to special interests.)
Regardless of what their true purposes might be, DEP CEO and cowboy-boot-wearing Herschel Vinyard has launched the comprehensive rewrite and now we are left to watch and wince at the coming disastrous impacts it will likely have upon natural resource management and protection in our state.
The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) has sent Vinyard a fairly strong letter that raises issues which hint at what the real reason behind the rewrite could be … and it isn’t to standardize rules between the water management districts.
The letter points out there are two themes apparent in the many significant changes being proposed.  First, it is clear that once a permit is granted, the water pretty much becomes the property of the permit holder during the term of the permit, i.e., nearly permanent, and it is essentially impossible for the agency to review before the end of the term if circumstances change as it can now.  Such changed circumstances might include conservation practices that cause the permittee to need less water, changes in the permittee’s actual need because of changing business economics or long term rainfall patterns, or unanticipated impacts upon natural systems or the hydrologic system.
Under today’s rules, water conserved can be reallocated to others such as a new business.  If an area is suffering from a water shortage where all available water has been committed, freeing up a quantity from an existing user creates additional supply that can then be recommitted for public purposes such as a new user who might bring new jobs to the area.  Everyone wins under this scenario.  The existing user continues his business using less water with no harm to him; the new user can start his new business, and; the public is served because new commerce and jobs are generated. 
Under Vinyard’s proposal, the current permit holder could conceivably sell water he has conserved to a new user and if water is scarce, the price could be hefty.  All the new user would need is to get a nod from the district that the use meets legal requirements, i.e., be reasonable-beneficial and in the public interest, etc.
Needless to say, the public has spent hundreds of millions on programs designed to motivate farmers, miners, power companies, private home owners and you-name-it, to conserve water just so more water would be available to meet more growing demand.  This was purely to foster economic development in a manner that would preserve and sustain existing water supplies and protect the environment.  Scott and Vinyard seem to be completely missing or ignoring this point and they are hell bent on not letting any pesky truth, fact or incontrovertible reality convince them otherwise.
The second theme mentioned in the FCC letter relates to the 20-year term of the permits which would be basically automatic and, again, the inability of the permits to be reviewed at any given point even if it should be done in the public interest.  This total control of a quantity of water, whether or not it continues to be a reasonable and beneficial use (as required by current law), begins to smell a lot like ownership of water instead of a permit to use.
This isn’t the first time water permit holders have tried to make water a marketable commodity.  The most recent was the city of Tampa when it proposed legislation that would remove the treated waste water it discharges into Tampa Bay from the water permitting process as long as the water remained in a contained condition.  The maneuver would have removed it from public stewardship and created virtual ownership of water under their control.  As demand for water increases, the city appeared to be posturing itself to be able to sell its treated water to others.  The problem is that this situation would not be limited to just the City of Tampa. It would been operative for any permit holder that treats and contains used water before discharging it, like farmers, power and mining companies, etc., all of which are users and re-users of huge quantities of water.
The fact that DEP is continuing this path toward drastically changing the current water use permitting rules, suggests we need to ask, why?
In response, we are left with two nefarious, for lack of any other way of putting it, scenarios: 1) either they are incredibly oblivious to all the careful thinking that has gone into the development of Florida’s water laws over the last 40 years, or; 2) the Department is in bed with some very large water users who have some very collusive designs on what they want to do with “their” water in the future.
Current Florida law is based upon the concept that water is a public resource owned by no one and, by law, is managed in a manner that is intended to serve public interests.  These interests would include an equal-footing opportunity to apply for its use, assurance that the use is reasonable and beneficial and does not interfere with other existing legal users or cause environmental harm, and, if certain circumstances change, providing that the use may be modified in a way that will continue to serve the interests of the public. (These are my paraphrased words.  I fully appreciate that there will be lawyers, which I am not, who will argue some nuance that is contra to what I say here or reference a court case to prove I’m not saying it correctly.  My response is that if it always takes a lawyer to determine how we’re to discuss what all Floridians need to understand, we’re in deep trouble.)
Certainly, permit holders need to have a degree of certainty that the water use they are granted will continue to be available as prescribed for a reliable period of time.  There are valid public interest reasons, however, that justify a permitting agency’s opportunity to review a long-term permit before the permit is up for renewal.  And, these reasons need to be set forth in the terms of the permit and authorized by law.  Simply put, issuance of permits for as long as 20 years with no opportunity to be reviewed in the interim reflects an unrealistic level of knowledge about the future that no person, agency or government has.  We’re talking about potentially hundreds of permits for huge quantities in a physical and political world that can change vastly in a matter of months, much less 20 years.
Reasonable circumstances that justify review of a permit, for example, might be when the initial quantity granted is no longer needed by the permittee, or a water shortage condition demands that everyone reduce usage, or if granting the permit is later found to be causing unanticipated adverse impacts either to natural systems or other existing legal users.  There could be other such reasonable circumstances that would justify a review of permitted quantities in certain areas.
If the length and permanence of control of water that the proposed DEP rule would afford permit holders is adopted, it is probable there will be several inevitable and ill-advised results.  First, the water will become owned by definition and, thus, could be sold at a profit to those who need it but can’t get it anywhere else.  Secondly, if the permit holder decides not to allow others to have the water he no longer needs, then the economic benefit from it going to a new use is denied to the area and the state as a whole.  The FCC asks the question, would this “banking” or hoarding of unused water be reasonable and beneficial and in the public interest as required by present law?  These conditions are fundamental tenets for the permitted use of water under Florida water law. 
Florida water law also provides that water use should always be allowed to migrate toward higher orders of use.  A higher order of use for surplus water generated from a farm that has implemented water saving methodologies, for example, would be to allow the conserved water to be available to another farm that has no other alternative.  Since it is a public resource, the new user should not have to pay someone to have access to it. By the same token the needs of the new farmer should not be met at the expense of the existing legal permittee.
To be clear, no water should ever be arbitrarily taken from a permitted legal user during the approved term of the permit and given to another user no matter what the priority.  This is why permits are for limited terms, so a proposed higher use can compete with an existing use when the permit expires and is up for renewal. The only reason a reduction from a permitted amount might be considered would be under such carefully considered circumstances as mentioned earlier, and which would be clearly established in the laws and rules of the state.
So, if the reason for going through this masquerade of rewriting public policy really is to shift the state closer toward making water a sellable, profit-making commodity and removing the public as its proper steward, why doesn’t Scott and Vinyard just say so?  The reason is, of course, is that this represents a tectonic shift from current law that the public would never stand for.  Clearly this is all about serving the interests of large permit holders who have designs to make a lot of money selling water to those who need it at a price that will only go higher as water gets scarcer, and making a lot of money. 
If you don’t think this is a reasonable scenario, just remember the push by the Cattlemen’s Association last legislative session to convert hundreds of thousands of publically owned acres to private ownership simply by changing a few words in the law relating to the Ordinary High Water Line.
Clearly, there is not much thought being given to what they may wreak upon the state’s cherished natural heritage with this so-called re-write of water laws that have evolved over decades.  One has to question the genesis of their motives.  What’s brought them to this position that deems all which has gone before them by so many bright people from all sides of the political spectrum so wrong that they must begin all over again? One thing it certainly is not is public interest.
There’s apparently nothing this governor and his micro-focused band of miscreants will not do out of ignorance, the pursuit of Super PAC money and political power. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Contrary to any hopes to the contrary, Sandspur has not fallen down a rabbit hole

For those of you who might hope Sandspur has gone silent, be not so encouraged.  I have merely become distracted by my muscadine grape operation and trying to help the City of Brooksville return to a somewhat sustainable economy. 
The Terminator, determined
For those of you who might hope I’ll soon be back (which I know is a wild assumption), I plan to return to the business of bugling to the digital winds all that is fast becoming a disaster wrought by the reign of chief-private-sector-CEO-and-ersatz-governor of our Great State of Florida, Rick Scott, shortly.

Gen. MacArthur  returns
Sans pipe and khakis but otherwise as determined as Gen. MacArthur and as inevitable as the Terminator, I’ll be back … soon.

... Isaac notwithstanding.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dr. Knight shines the light of truth brightly on the Adena Springs Ranch application for a water use permit

Make statements of fact that aren’t and then publish them as if they are. It’s a time worn but sometimes useful tactic, like when applying for a water use permit the public hates.
It’s designed to counter those unintelligent nitwits who have the gall to suggest your permit is going to do things your consultants know will happen but which if you admit to publically will surely result in a denied permit.
So instead of saying, for example, that your requested permit to pump 13.2 million gallons every day from the ground (more than the amount pumped by the entire City of Ocala!) will cause a reduction in flow of 5 million gallons per day from Florida’s internationally famous Silver Springs, you say, oh phooey, it’s not going to have any impact at all.
It’s not called lying.  It’s called spin, and Adena Springs Ranch lawyer Ed de la Parte stretched the difference between truth and non-truth to the cellular thickness of an onion skin when he said in his letter-to-the-editor published May 20 in the Gainesville Sun, “The results of the model are that the proposed withdrawal will have virtually no impact on Silver Springs, other natural springs, lakes and private wells.”
Come on, Eddie, really?  That’s ridiculous even for a lawyer getting paid to advocate on behalf of his client’s interests.  Like I said, the “skin” of an onion between each peel is only one cell thick.
And what’s more, if the consultants for a water permit applicant can’t depend upon the facts to be pursuasive I guess they can buy space in the local media and blast public sensibilities with statements designed to foster factless emotional judgements instead.  This is what billionaire Canadian Frank Stronach is doing to get a water permit that if granted will most certainly have, as surely as Ed de la Parte is a very smart lawyer, an impact upon Silver Springs.
Stronach is now buying full paid advertisements in the local media to convince the public that all is well and pumping 13.2 million gallons per day from Silver Springs’ sensitive source-aquifer will have no impact upon the springs’ already stressed mean annual flows. 
Dr. Robert L. Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, has written a letter, published here with his permission, that sheds important factual light upon some of the spin being spun around the Adena Springs Ranch permit application.

The Gainesville Sun titled Dr. Knight’s letter:
“Adena Springs Ranch in the Court of Public Opinion”
Dr. Robert L. Knight
When was the last time you saw a two-page ad in the Gainesville Sun? Probably not that long ago. It was bought by another billion dollar company. BP Oil has spent millions trying to convince us that the Gulf of Mexico was not harmed by more than 206 million gallons of crude oil from their Deep Water Horizon drilling platform. Now a lawyer working for Adena Springs Ranch, thinks a 2-page newspaper ad will convince the public that he can pump more than 13 million gallons per day (4.8 billion gallons per year) from the aquifer and cause no harmful effects on groundwater levels or flows at nearby Silver Springs.
Adena’s consultants estimated that the aquifer drawdown due to their 134 wells would not be measurable at nearby Silver Springs. What they don’t reveal is that a groundwater decline of about 0.1 foot at Silver Springs equates to a flow decline of more than 5 million gallons per day. This reduction is more than the entire flow of Green Cove Springs, a second magnitude spring on the St. Johns River. It is neither trivial nor unmeasurable. This is about 4 percent of the entire flow of Silver Springs during the recent drought. At this rate it would only take 26 similar groundwater consumptive use permits to legally take all of the flow out of Silver Springs during the next drought.
By the way, there are already over 2,500 active groundwater permits in Marion, Lake, Sumter, Alachua, and Putnam Counties, the area that includes and immediately surrounds the groundwater basin feeding Silver Springs. These existing permits authorize the collective removal of 363 million gallons per day from the Floridan Aquifer, equal to 74 percent of the historic flow at Silver Springs. No wonder one environmental advocate recently warned that Silver Springs may dry up if the St. Johns River Water Management District continues to issue permits like the one Adena has requested.
Adena’s ad also stated that the 10,000 acres of irrigated and fertilized pasture will not increase the existing nitrogen pollution in the groundwater that feeds Silver Springs. In 2006, District scientists reported that agricultural/pasture areas contributed an average of 48 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year to Silver Springs. Given the size of Adena’s proposed cattle operation, the District’s analysis indicates that more than 240 tons of additional nitrate will reach Silver Springs each year, a 50 percent increase over the existing nitrate load.
This is not surprising since 15,000 cows produce nitrogen waste equivalent to 165,000 people. None of this cow urine and manure will receive treatment, it will be spread on irrigated pastures where a large portion will inevitably seep into the aquifer. Florida regulators recently mandated a 79 percent nitrate load reduction for Silver Springs. Meeting this target will cost local utilities such as the City of Ocala millions of dollars to implement. Adena’s ad assures us that they will prepare a “certified nutrient management plan” similar to plans used to manage water quality in the Everglades. What Adena’s ad fails to mention is that over 2 billion tax-payer dollars has already been spent to clean up pollution from farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Less water and more pollution in Marion County’s groundwater and springs are not in the public interest.
And there are other misleading statements in Adena’s advertisement. For example:
Adena claims that sinkholes and karst geology are “just not an issue”. This statement is false. The whole area is mapped by the Florida Geological Survey as “more vulnerable” to groundwater contamination from the land surface, and there are karst features and relic sinkholes on the property.
In the current Adena proposal, there is no control mechanism to capture and treat surface runoff from the site flowing to wetlands, creeks, and the adjacent Ocklawaha River, an Outstanding Florida Water. Nutrients carried by this runoff are likely to be significant during summer downpours and tropical storms.
Adena says that reduced flows in the Silver River have re-appeared as increased flows in the Ocklawaha and Rainbow Rivers. This is false. The average flow in all three of these rivers has been steadily declining, providing strong evidence that flow declines are regional and are being caused by a combination of low rainfall and excessive groundwater pumping.
If you want science, take a look at the District’s 50-Year Retrospective Study of Silver Springs Don’t look for real science in a paid advertisement from a high-priced water attorney working for a Canadian billionaire. If Frank Stronach was sincere when he gave his pledge to “have no negative effect on the environment”, then he needs to visit Silver Springs and listen to the public’s opinion.
Spin is quickly unwound by the light of truth and Dr. Knight shines it brightly on the Adena Springs Ranch application for a water permit.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More staff to be fired at SWFWMD? Rumors are rampant. Morale is in the pits.

Rumors that another very significant number of staff from SWFWMD are going to be laid off continue to seethe and swirl at the district’s headquarters in Brooksville. The number of unfortunate folks to get the boot in the middle of this country’s historic recession is unspecified but the rumor mill has it at 60 to 107 staff members.

Talk says it could hit several of the district’s central management departments (or should they now be referred to as bureaus like state agencies?) The buzz is that Information Technology, General Services, Finance Department and Management Services are being targeted.

The credence of the rumor is being reinforced by the number of people doing the whispering who are all saying the same thing. These are folks who would not typically be in communication with each other. Something is going on at SWFWMD and it’s going to destroy further the already badly damaged morale of a once highly respected, science-based public agency.

I didn’t think the morale could get any lower. Turns out I’m wrong. One can only hope the rumors are not true. This is the wrong time, the wrong way and probably the wrong reason to be doing this.

If true, the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of CEO Rick Scott, his boy Herschel Vinyard, DEP’s Tallahassee minions and a bobbing-head Governing Board that doesn’t know or care that the ability of the agency for which it has responsibility is being systematically rendered ineffective and incapacitated. Maybe the word destroyed would be more applicable.

Certainly the thread of blame should also reach back to a regulatory reform sub-committee of Scott’s transition team who vigorously promoted the idea that water management districts are simply bloated, arrogant bureaucracies that need to be erased from Florida’s regulatory scene. I seem to remember Tampa “water” lawyer Doug Manson was the chair of that subcommittee and maybe it’s significant that one of the lawyers in his firm at that time is now general counsel for the governing board at SWFWMD. She was his Tallahassee "operative" for several years. (Want to bet her job is not going to be one of those on the chopping block?)

If this is happening at the other four districts as well, anyone who has any concern for water resource management and the impact these reductions will have on Florida as a quality place to live, work, and play in the future should be up in arms.

Here’s the thing. If the layoffs are because the job of water management as a government necessity has been reduced to the point that it takes fewer staff to carry it out, then so be it. But if it’s because the legislature and governor cut water resource management funding for political reasons and without adequately considering the impact upon the districts’ collective ability to do what is needed, then that’s incompetence and dereliction of duty at the highest level.

I fear, and the facts are beginning to show, that the reality is the latter.

The next election cannot come soon enough.