Friday, October 18, 2013

SWFWMD is allowing pumping violations. Is this "getting the water right?" Even legal?

Apparently, you can get a permit from SWFWMD and completely ignore any maximum pumping limitations as long as you believe you’re “doing what you think is right.”  Apparently, this is the case even if it impacts other legally permitted water users, is not in the public interest or harms the water resources of the area, according to a report in this morning’s Tampa Bay Times.

One grower near Brandon who is limited to pumping no more than 200,000 gallons per day, instead, pumped 1.6 million gallons to counter the effects of citrus greening even though there’s no scientific evidence supporting excessive irrigation as a valid way to fight the citrus tree disease.  Evidently, SWFWMD is not going to pursue its legal prerogatives to stop the violation and over-pumping. 

Scientists contacted by the Times say they’ve never heard of over-irrigating as means to fight the disease which is impacting Florida citrus growers statewide.

Robert Beltran, the new executive director at SWFWMD has a lot to learn about resource management.  He needs to realize that limits for pumping are based upon law and are established on specific permits for sound, technical, science-based reasons.  No permit holder can legally be allowed to exceed the limits of a valid permit without similar sound, technical, science-based reasons unless the law provides for it and the governing board makes the decision.  No infraction of a law can be legally allowed, as far as I know, simply because an executive director is "no expert" and because the permittee thinks "it's right."

Beltran needs to check with his lawyers ricky-tick.

There may be more to this story, however.  If it is not simple naiveté on the new ED’s part, it could certainly be a more insidious attempt to subvert critically needed resource protections by an ill-advised governor desperate to bolster his re-election poll numbers within the ag community. 
In any case, if it’s not blatantly illegal, it’s a pathetic thing to let happen. It’s also just one more reason to hold the CEO governor accountable in 2014 and get rid of the destructive sham leadership of Herschel Vinyard, the inept secretary of the state's flagship environmental protection agency, DEP.
Need to follow this closely.


  1. Maybe the Golf Courses in Citus and Highlands County that agreed to over pumping fines this Auguest, should ask for a refund.

    I hope SWFWMD's solution will not be to change the permit and give them more water because the grower thinks they need more water.

  2. Robert Beltran is what you get when you hire someone not for their professional ability or experieince but because they are able to go along with the political mantra without question. He isn't even talented enough to keep his mouth shut to not show his ignorance. What inthe worl is he thinking when he says that "they" know better than SWFWMD what their water needs are? As a matter of fact, they don't as SWFWMD has spent tens of millions of dollars over decades funding IFAS research and other reserach into the needs of water users. This includes not only agriculture, but public supply, mining, commerical and industrial. This research was the basis for the water use caution areas, both SWUCA and NTB. That research and ultimately the amounts were fiercly debated by many experts and resulted in the reduction of pumpage. The rules were difficult for many to live with and SWF helped by implementing programs to help in the areas of conservation, reuse, FARMS an dother programs. Now this guy is clueless and says its a free foreall. What happens to me when I water on the wrong day or time? Can I say, " I feel my lawn needs more water because it is stressed by the heat?" Apparently the small individual has to play by the rules but the large agricultual user (citrus lobby) can do what they want. What does that say to Tampa Bay Water who spent near 1 billion for alternative water sources? Can they say now that they can overpump because they know best what their system demands are? How can you then punish them for overpumping when you turn a blind eye to agriculture? Mr. Beltran has no business being the Executive Director. He's never managed more than ahand fullof people, has no regional water management expereince and is a pawn to Carol Beruff. What does his actions/leadship (lack thereof) do to the SWF staff? His incompedence send the message to the public that all SWF staff must be incompedent, which of course is not true, but that is unfortunately what many will believe. Embarrassing to say the least. Sonny, look into what Mr. Beltran's "bonus" is tied into. He is being measured against how much he can reduce the operating budget. That doesn't require any management skill, just an ability to close his eyes to the needs of the staff and resource and say no.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Obviously, I don't know who wrote the above comment but I can say with certainty that I'm in total agreement, as is the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. See their thoughts published today (2013.10.21) by pasting this link into your web browser. (

      Beltran has made a very serious misjudgment that has the potential to disrupt longstanding state law and agency policy positions. Yes, he is new to the job and doesn't have the benefit of institutional knowledge or training but that can't be allowed to excuse this dangerous naiveté.

      Frankly, my thought is that this absolutely typifies the tactics contemplated by Scott's transition team when it, led by its chair, Tampa lawyer Doug Manson, proposed to replace all the old guard staffers, get rid of the competent scientists, and gain control of managing Florida's water and related natural resources by political influence rather than objective and legitimate science. If Beltran's position, as described above and by the Tampa Bay Times editorial, is left to stand, Florida is in for massive resource degradation and abuse from which it might never recover.
      - Sandspur

    3. Sonny,
      Robert Beltran has the title of ED but that's about it. It is Laura Donaldson who is the acting ED of the SWFWMD. Robert does not make decisions, he relays what Laura decides Robert is the number three guy at SWFWMD, behind Laura (aka Doug Manson) and Carlos Beruff.

  3. This fits in just perfectly with what DEP staff are now being told about (non)compliance and (non)enforcement. In the past, if a regulated entity was not in compliance with multiple requirements of a permit, they were cited and fined based on multiple infractions. DEP staff are now bring directed to cite only ONE violation from what may be a multitude of violations of a permit. Moreover, if the entity being regulated claims that the violation was "accidental," then DEP staff have been told to "work with" the permittee to resolve the issues, rather than to issue a fine! The Governor, Secretary Vinyard, and Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn have effectively neutered DEP and the Water Management Districts. It is WAY past time to run them all out of town and vote for someone with a conscience.

  4. I really don't know how the ED is not fired for this. In addition to all the accurate observations you made in the blog, by not enforcing Consumptive Use Permits listed, how can the District enforce any of its permits? When a neighboring landowner (to one of these violators) violates his CUP because it is in his economic interests to do so (i.e. they think its right), he will simply argue that any enforcement action against him is arbitrary.

  5. Sonny. Quess who's having dry well complaints? Seems like the aquifer shouldbe i good shape after what appears to be a normal rianfall summer. You ought to look into where these are occuring and see if they are within th eareas of citrus overpumping. Not that the SWF Executive Director would do anything, after all he's no expert nor is he allowed to actually upset anyone, but I wonder if those having problems of no water to bath are getting treated fairly. This is what happens when you manage by political committee.

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  7. Hey SandSpurt citrus growers are not the bad guys

    The Florida citrus industry, one of the state's true economic engines, is battling an insidious bacterial disease known as HLB, or citrus greening. The disease has the potential to wipe out our $9 billion industry, its 76,000 jobs and a way of life across Florida's rural interior.
    There are a lot of unknowns about growing citrus in the era of HLB, including when and how much irrigation is needed to restore growth and health to the blotchy, wrinkled leaves that are a hallmark of HLB. Studies are underway to figure it out.
    So it was disappointing that an article and subsequent editorial in the Times regarding a handful of growers overpumping water painted them as the bad guys. In an era of uncertainty, unintended errors will be made, especially when a grower is trying to save his livelihood. The citrus industry is in crisis, and to compare our situation to homeowners having to install low-flow shower heads is small-minded and inaccurate.
    In fact, despite disease challenges, citrus growers in the Southwest Florida Water Management District have reduced their daily water pumping by more than 37 percent over the past decade, according to the district's annual water use reports.
    This significant decrease has been achieved through a number initiatives including robust communication between the district and growers, advances in technology such as micro-jet irrigation, and innovative programs that incentivize farmers to use less water.
    Growers need quality water to maximize tree growth and yields. They understand the importance of a healthy environment, conservation and efficient production techniques. Unfortunately, this context was not reported in the Times. Jumping to conclusions without giving context does a disservice to your readers.

  8. The citrus industry should be commended for its water conservation efforts. They have reduced their water use by about 50% going from from flood and large gun irrigation to trickle and drip irrigation. Citrus production is a major player in our state's economy and SWFWMD has thousands of citrus permits who are meeting or using less than their permitted amount. The few who are not seem to be giving the entire industry a black eye and should not be considered the norm.

    Basic botany teaches us that a plant's roots take in water and plant's leaves releases that water. As several experts and letters to the editor have pointed out citrus greening damages a tree's root system, causing the tree's leaves to wilt. You don't need to be an expert to realize that trees with poor root systems or wilted leaves can not use the same amount of water as a healthy tree.

    Several years ago SWFWMD funded a project with the University of Florida to look at irrigation alternatives to deal with Greening production. Results were printed in the August 2010, and September 2012 editions of the Citrus Industry Magazine (, and the study showed a reduction in water and fertilizer use for alternative irrigation systems related to citrus greening. Irrigation management (frequent small doses of water) was also found to be a cost effective alternative to save water and address citrus greening.

    To protect the good reputation of the Industry and the water resources that they and the rest of the state need, the handful of growers who exceeded their permits should be taken to task. Although, they may have a valid reason, it does not seem that they have provided good information to support their water use. The data, last year's weather,science, and the rest of the growers seem to support the idea that these few growers need to be brought to task.

  9. Sonny...I'll agree with "some" of your comments.

    But....where to start?

    First off, you are a wise man. Surely you don't believe everything you read in the news? Surely you know that comments can be taken out of context or statements misrepresented.

    Secondly, as a citrus grower, I can tell you that citrus greening is an unprecedented lethal killing machine. Yes, we (scientist and citrus grower alike) said that about citrus canker. At the time, we thought that the only way to get rid of canker was to push and burn 1900 ft. around the infected tree. One canker infested tree could wipe out over 200 acres of an otherwise healthy citrus grove. Now science AND grower ingenuity, have found out that we can live with canker with additional foliar and copper sprays. Unfortunately, as a citrus grower with infected citrus greening trees, I can tell you personally that you can't live with citrus greening...not for very long at least. Ten years ago the caretaking cost of an acre of citrus was approx. $750/ac. Five years ago, the caretaking of an acre of citrus "with" greening had risen to $1200 to $1500/ac. Last year, that same acre was costing about $1,800 to produce. This year, projected costs are at $2,000/ac. So, can we (citrus growers) last until a scientific breakthrough is found? Some will...some won't. For some it's a waiting game; trying what scientists best guess is for the day. Trying what we think will help the trees survive. Help them live to fight another day. Trying to hold out long enough until a cure can be found.

    Thirdly, growers should be held accountable for overpumping and they should work with the District to come into compliance. The citrus growers that are over their permitted quantities should have known they had used up their SWUCA II credits and that they were in danger of being over their permitted quantities. They should have also been turning in rainfall data and/or making sure the District had adequate data to support their pumping. I agree, we should all be held accountable. However, it's odd that a handful of growers are overpumping in 2013 (a rainy year). One would think that some time over the past 4 drought years a pattern would have started showing the decline of their SWUCA II credits. I know that for me personally, about two years ago all our water credits were gone (before anyone wants to know why citrus growers got treated special with credits to begin with...during SWUCA II, SWFWMD took 25% "across the board" water use permit quantity cuts. Kinda unfair. Just as unfair as Tallahassee dictating 25% "across the board" staff reduction or budget reduction on all WMDs. Water isn't a one size fits all issue; whether that applies to water use permits or WMDs). The only thing that has saved us from overpumping this year is God's bountiful rainfalls.

    Lastly, some of the above comments mention Tampa Bay Water...and make a reference to citrus growers getting preferential treatment. Seriously! How many times did TBW go over their permitted quantities? How many times did their overpumping come before the Gov. Board? How many times were we told that if we fined TBW it would diminish their bond rating and therefore cause TBW water users financial injury...and therefore we could not fine TBW. We could lecture them as much as we wanted....but at the end of the day...they were treated with kid gloves.

    Sonny - I think you know how much I honestly respect SWFWMD staff -- whether old or new. So while I don't personally know Robert Beltran, it kind of makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck to read the comments that were written in your blog by "anonymous". Is this what the world has come to? Are we to judge so easily?

    Let's walk a mile in each other shoes....get a little perspective on the situation.

    1. I don’t disagree with much of what you say. But here are a few observations:

      I don’t fact check the commenters to my blog. Folks ought to have a forum and that’s what I offer. There’s nowhere else they can do this freely without jeopardizing their jobs or having to meet a 250-word limit. If they are wrong, others have an equal opportunity to rebut. I have never refused to publish a comment except when I thought the comment was a bit personal (not necessarily to me but to others) or referred to things I thought were inappropriate (racism, religion banging, etc.) or was skating too close to just ranting out of anger and making no sense, and there’s been less than a handful of these all together. On the other hand, I sense there are more and more folks wanting to be heard and willing to take the time to send in some very carefully thought out and sincere ideas as long as their anonymity can be respected and protected, even from me. I appreciate your views and fully respect what your saying.

      Your point about how many times Tampa Bay was in violation and handled with kid gloves, though, is off base. The district spent millions on lawyers over decades, trying to bring them into compliance and ultimately had no choice but to help them build their way out of their problem, but only after the district realized it was about to lose THE legal battle (that’s about the time I arrived in 1997 and why we entered a $300 million agreement which ultimately resulted in Tampa Bay spending another $1.2 billion – with a “B” - to reduce their pumping from NW Hillsborough and Pasco counties by an unprecedented 100 permitted mgd). And that was only after years and more millions were spent in court. Tampa Bay never got a free bye that I know of. They just fought like the dickens. In addition, politicians have to have dragons to slay and the district was a perfect one for Pinellas County politicians for decades, especially Chuck Rainey and a few others I could mention.

      As for assistance to farmers, SWFWMD led the way via partnerships, focused studies requested by ag, and co-funding agreements in the millions to help them cover the costs of developing new ways to stay in compliance rather than issuing notices of violations. Talk about kid gloves. … but it was needed in my judgment.

      I don’t remember the SWUCA 25% across-the-board cut (under Dave Moore maybe?), but don’t doubt it. I can’t imagine an appointed district board being allowed to subjectively decide who’s going to get cut, less or more than anyone else, like between Ag or water suppliers or a wetland (such as in the concept of “competing applications” as envisioned by Chapter 373). If it came down to politics, I believe the farmers would lose out, by the way, to the more populated and powerful urban interests. The politics would eat up any district board if it tried to do it on their own without legislative direction (which, for the same political reasons, will never happen. The legislature is too concerned about Party, staying elected and serving self). On the other hand, an across the board cut would be more doable politically even if arbitrary, but only if the conditions of the resource absolutely demanded it and there was science to prove it up.

      Again, where is the science that says greening can be alleviated by over irrigating? Does IFAS say it’s the thing to do? I haven’t seen it. But if it exists, I’m certain the districts will take different look at how they might review permitted quantities because, as you say, ag is critical to state’s economy. Even then, however, it might not be possible if any request is considered not reasonable or beneficial, in the public interest, interferes with other legal users or is harmful to the resource. At that point, the farmer should get no bye and, like the rest of us, needs to find a another way of making a living ... continued below.

    2. Are we to “judge so easily?” Ask Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard and the tea bagger folks what judgment they used when they decimated the districts’ and the state’s entire environmental regulatory capability as well as other needed governmental arms that were created to protect the state’s future. Living only for today will doom tomorrow and that’s exactly where the judgment of today is. Doesn’t mean we need to live under a police state. Just means we need to be smart and respectful toward what we’re leaving to, and doing to, our progeny and pay less attention to the demands of Party extremists.

      I’m willing to walk in the shoes of others … for a ways. But if there ‘s no sense of compromise, like walking in my shoes a ways, too … forget it.

      Thank you again, Pam, for sharing your thoughts which I'm certain are heartfelt. I offer my thoughts here in full respect for you and your concerns. -Sandspur

  10. I have lived in florida most of my life and always wondered, even before water shortages, why so much was 'wasted', through overspraying lost to evaporation, since the rest theoretically percs down to the water table, Not so in neighborhoods, where almost every lawn is irrigated, fertilized, and then groomed to a T, blowing any residual blade of grass or leaf away, lest they become part of a richer soil. Any rainwater that falls, is not captured but is piped to the driveway where it is sent, along with roof runoff that scoops up any road oil, decomposing animals or debris, to the storm drains. Instead of maintaining water on site, each of us, where it can slowly be filtered biologically and then back to the water table. And if anyone even THINKS about reusing graywater, they are STRONGLY discouraged by the managers at SWFWMD, citing a 2007 study done in conjunction with the U of Fl that determined it would "not be feasible'. Never mind that's not how I read it, why not?