Gary Kuhl is a former executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and County Administrator for both Citrus and Hernando counties. He is also the former Water Team Leader for Hillsborough County and is currently an active member of the Florida Conservation Coalition. His letter is published here with his permission. It rings with validity and carries significance because of his professional background – he’s an engineer – and his considerable experience in Florida water resource management. - Sandspur
Not So Fast My Friend
Just when it was starting to feel like the Governor and the Florida Legislature might be trying to head in the right direction and “get the water right”, things sure look like they are going south AGAIN. The Governor recently suggested putting money in the State’s budget to assist with Everglades management and improvement in water routing to minimize the disastrous impacts seen this past summer in the Indian River Lagoon---putridly polluted runoff waters released into the Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee apparently killed hundreds of dolphin, pelicans and manatees over this past year. Granted the Governor’s proposed budget amount for the Eveglades is a pittance compared to what is needed, yet it seemed like a positive start. State monies were recently spent with great fanfare to cleanup some of the State’s springheads including the Chassahowitzka spring in southwest Citrus County. It is well known that it is going to take serious action upstream of these springheads to stop the nutrient and water consumption problems, but again these springhead cleanup projects seemed to be a good start. And Southwest Florida Water Management District employees have tried hard to keep local citizens informed of progress on these spring projects. There SEEMED to be a few other good signs of recognition by elected State officials of our water problems and hence potential problems for Florida’s future.
Photo by Gary Kuhl
But not so fast my friend---enter Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General, who surely receives direction and supervision from our own Governor Scott, to join some twenty other state attorneys general with formal letters supporting a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation filed against the feds and the State of Maryland for (GASP!) cleaning up Chesapeake Bay! She, Bondi, claims her only desire here is to stop federal overreach, i.e., to stop a cooperative environmental cleanup program between six states, the District of Columbia and yes, the federal government. How does her action make any sense? It’s embarrassing for our State. When’s the last time you ate an oyster or crab harvested from Chesapeake Bay?? That Bay is a mess--kind of like Indian River Lagoon.
Right behind Bondi comes Florida Panhandle Representative Jimmy Patronis with proposed legislation (HB 703) to eliminate or severely limit Florida counties and municipalities from managing and regulating their own local development and projects impacting our environment. Remember the Florida Legislature two years ago dismantled Florida’s growth management laws and the State department responsible thereof. The reason given was, gosh, the local county and city governments could handle all that stuff. Is there a pattern here?
Is there a decided approach to dismantle the substance of forty some years of environmental consciousness promulgated by bipartisan Florida governors and legislators? Looks like no one will be overseeing development or long term planning or “you name it” in Florida, a state that has now has almost 19 million residents and millions more annual visitors. Guess who supports this bill, HB 703? Is it the same folks who are suing Maryland because they are trying to clean up their own Chesapeake Bay through planning and, yes, regulation of farming and development practices? On the long haul, fair and well thought-out regulations are job savers, not job killers.
And finally along comes our Speaker of the House, Will Weatherford, who proclaims that he is “punting the water stuff” to next year’s legislative session. He acknowledges that Florida’s water issues are real and have been a long time in the making and will take a long time to solve. It is very hard to understand how a responsible leader in our State government could make such an ill-considered statement for non-action. It is a problem, it will take a long time to solve it. So let’s put it off another year!??
Kudos to Senator Charlie Dean along with four other Florida Senators who have drafted a proposed bill aimed at protecting and enhancing Florida’s dying springs, and really, our fresh groundwater resources for drinking, irrigation and industry use. Senator Dean in a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Crystal River Wildlife Management Refuge Complex, explained the bill he was instrumental in drafting. He cited the proposed bill as long overdue and the “right thing to do” for our State. These five Senators and their proposed bill need our strong support through citizen letters and phone calls to elected officials, such as our Governor and other senators and representatives. Senator Dean along with getting his proposed bill passed, will need to fight to quash HB 703. Patronis’ bill opens the door to the old days in Florida----totally unmanaged growth along with an apparent path to privatization of our water resources. Guess who is already strongly lobbying against Senator Dean’s bill? You got it---lobbyists for agricultural and development interests.
Don’t get me wrong, I personally like agricultural, chamber of commerce, industry and home builder folks----many of us have relatives and good friends in these groups. I like Representative Patronis; several of us met with him this past summer to express our concerns about his bill that passed last year, further weakening water management districts in Florida. I like jobs being created here in Florida and good pay for employees. Positive cash flow into our state is probably good. BUT, if we mess up what brings people and businesses to our beautiful and unique State, its water and its environment, we can kiss it all good-bye. Selling or polluting our natural resources for the highest bidder, to get re-elected as governor or attorney general or legislator; or to bring big bucks to a few folks to the detriment of a long term healthy Florida is dead wrong. Maybe many have never seen a Florida spring in the wild and maybe some could care less about “the environment” but we taxpayers will pay the bill to try to fix the mess if our water is not properly managed NOW. We have got to help Senator Dean get his bill passed and kill House Bill 703.
Gary W. Kuhl
February 20, 2014