SFWMD Chair Discusses Water
Chauncey Goss, the Chair of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), was the guest speaker at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Thursday, January 9, at Charley’s Boat House Grill & Wine Bar.
“I must tip my hat not only to the Fort Myers Beach Chamber,” Goss began, “but the other Southwest Florida Chambers as well, because the people in rooms like this got others to understand that water quality is not just an environmental issue but business and economic ones. Governor Ron DeSantis understood this and he ran and won on that, having taken office one year ago yesterday and one year ago tomorrow proclaimed his Executive Order on water quality. That Executive Order serves as a road map to all State agencies as to the priorities we will tackle, and the Governor left no ambiguity about what he wants us to do!”
Goss called 2019 “a good year for water, and I would like to take credit for that, but the truth is God gets the credit! It was a normal year for rainfall and as SFWMD Chair, that is all I ask for, because our job is to manage floods and droughts and when we have a normal year, we manage neither. Florida averages a flat 50 inches of rainfall each year but we do not get that one-inch-per-week, but mostly during the summer. In spring, when we really need water, it is usually dry and that is when we often have to implement water restrictions.”
He felt another major attribute for good 2019 water quality was the “operational flexibility utilized by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in managing the level of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps says they will not use that operational flexibility again this year, but we are still talking to them, to release water down the Caloosahatchee River in the spring when we need it for healthy sea grasses, and to keep the Lake lower at the start of the summer rainy and hurricane seasons, to give us a bit more wiggle room, because when the Lake gets too high, they must release it down the estuaries as we currently have no other places to put water.”
“Most people still do not really understand the SFWMD,” Goss offered. “Many do not realize we operate from their tax dollars, and to those who do, often we are just a line item on their tax bill. The State divides Florida into five Water Management Districts and ours is the oldest and largest, to ensure that 8.7-million residents do not flood or go without water. We have a 250-mile watershed from Orlando to the Florida Bay and the Keys that takes in 16 counties, with 2,100 miles of canals, mostly on the East Coast, and hundreds of water structures and plants to manage. The SFWMD region has large tracts devoted to agriculture as well as to environmental areas.”
The SFWMD formed in 1947, added Goss, “when two hurricanes struck, dumping over 100 inches of rain, and local leaders put up their hands and implored the government to help drain South Florida so people could live here safely and not die from flooding, and we did such a good job of draining the area that when Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, we had no flooding whatsoever. What happened, however, was we cut off the historic flow of water south, and today we need water for the Everglades and Florida Bay, so we must re-engineer the system to work that way again. We have nine governing Board Members who represent our 16 counties, and we serve at the pleasure of the Governor without compensation. We are all in our first year because when Governor DeSantis came into power, he removed our nine predecessors for the first time ever. We have a staff of roughly 1,500 people, from engineers to meteorologists to all sorts of experts.”
I Leave That to You!
Goss called the SFWMD “a tough job, because when you serve nearly 9 million people, there are conflicts, but Governor DeSantis wants us to listen to all constituencies, to bring balance to water management and be transparent in everything we do. The hardest part, though, is never knowing what will happen tomorrow!”
Projects that most excite him are the C-43 and C-44 Reservoirs to the west and east of Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir to its south. “We are now filling C-44; we just broke ground on C-43 in Hendry County; and are waiting on Army Corps permits for the EAA! To describe how huge these are, C-43 will be six miles long and three miles wide, with the EAA even bigger. These are incredibly expensive – on my first day on the job last March, I signed a contract for $700 million – don’t worry; I am good for it! Rainy seasons will still get us into trouble over the next few years, but once these are complete, we will be in good shape. Now we are working on water treatment components, so when we do release water, it will be clean.”
When asked if Southwest Florida will enjoy clean water in 10 years, “Yes – absolutely,” assured Goss, “or I would not do this! It is up to every person in this room to keep up the pressure on Tallahassee, as we all need clean water, so I leave that to you!”
Following Goss’s presentation, Jacki Lizsak, the FMB Chamber Executive Director, reminded everyone, “The seven Southwest Florida Chambers of Commerce will be traveling together to Tallahassee from Sunday, January 26, through Tuesday, January 28, where we will speak to all of our elected representatives, Governor Ron DeSantis, and many other State leaders, with water quality at the top of our list, and we would love to have you join us. If you can attend, please contact me at the FMB Chamber at 239-454-7500.”