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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Phil Lewis
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: November 17, 2003
P: Please give me some personal and educational background.
L: I started in kindergarten here in West Palm Beach at a school that was known as
St. Anne's [School] on the lake. It was a girls' and boys' school at that time. I
went there part time; I spent part time in Chicago with my folks. [At fourteen, I
had polio and went into the hospital on my birthday.] When it came to high
school, after the first two years, I spent most of my time here. Then [I] went to
college. I graduated from St. Anne's High School and then went to Georgetown
University for a year. It was a mutual agreement; I didn't go back and they didn't
want me back. So we parted ways, but I came home and worked for my father.
Really, that's how I got involved with water management. Even when I was in
high school, he was very interested [in water management] because of the 1947
and 1949 hurricanes that had busted up everything and had water everywhere.
He took a real interest in that and he dragged me along, for which I have been
eternally grateful. I saw the need for water management back when I was a
young man, and I never have lost interest in it. Now it's a big, big business.
P: I guess the early problems were all with flood control, right?
L: Almost 100 percent of it was flood control and how to keep water off of people.
Incidentally, even now, everybody's for water management, everybody's for nice
lovey-dovey things until we flood, and then they're all interested in flood control.
So things haven't changed that much. The fact is, they do a much more diverse
work than they used to, and I think they do it well.
P: When you were working for your father, what exactly did both of you do?
L: We were in the land development business. That was another thing that was
interesting. It's a side issue, but it all had to do with water. To get financing for
housing, you had to do something with your water. You had to know where the
water was going off your subdivision or you couldn't get permitted. Well, our
primary interests were up here in the north end of Palm Beach County, and we
didn't have a lot of drainage districts up here [except for] the little 298 Districts
[local water management districts established under Florida Statute Chapter 298;
districts are responsible for design, construction, maintenance, and operation of
water control facilities for control of drainage and reclaiming of lands within a
given area]. So, [a group of landowners] formed one. We called it the Northern
Palm Beach County Water Control District. It's the largest 298 District in the state
even to this day, and I had the privilege of being the first chairman. Later, after I
left, they turned it into a development district so they could do sewer water, street
storm drainage, and the whole nine yards. I didn't particularly like that, because I
thought that they ought to stick to drainage; it's enough to take care of the water.
P: So this North Palm Beach Water Control District was set up by private interests?
L: Yes, they formed a water management district under the [Florida Statute
Chapter] 298 law and then financed everything through a levy of tax on the
property owners. I think it was $.25 or $.50 an acre, and that took care of us for
P: What year was this formed?
L: [It was] probably in the middle to late 1950s, maybe early 1960s. Now it's a huge
service district for sewer water, street storm drainage and the like. So it's a lot
different than it was when we started it, but we were able to help people that
couldn't get drainage or get their water taken care of. The idea is [that] when you
wanted to get rid of that water, the only place you could put it was in the county
road. Well, you can only put so much water in the county road and then the
subdivision will be shut down. So the Northern Palm Beach County Water
Management District worked it's own [area] with several other districts. Palm
Beach County has the biggest group of districts in the state. I think we've got
thirty-nine or forty districts. They're marvelous pieces of work to get something
done at a very reasonable price.
P: Were some of the canals already in? I noticed one of the canals is near Jupiter.
L: That's the C18. That was a flood control program.
P: Yeah, that's what I meant. So those were already in?
L: They were already in.
P: So you're talking mainly about runoff.
L: [I'm talking about secondary] runoff, that's right. We used them as a primary to
get rid of [our water]. We'd bring our water down to them and they'd take it. It was
a very, very interesting project to me. I haven't paid any attention to it in the last
ten or twelve years, but it's really grown and they do a good job. It had good
P: When you were in the development business in the 1950s and 1960s, did you
have any problems here at all with the quantity of water that the community
L: No, generally speaking, we had an oversupply of water. That's not true today.
Today you can get awful short of water quickly. As a matter of fact, when I had
my ranch up on Hood Road [in Palm Beach County], I remember having to bring
our cows in there and the water [would] just seep out. You had to remove the
cattle or they wouldn't be able to drink anything and there was no way to get the
water to it. Now that's all taken care of and it's a beautiful subdivision in the
Northern Palm Beach County Water Control District. They've got good water
management in there, inside that district.
P: What did you do in droughts? I understand the early 1960s was sort of a bad
period for drought.
L: Well, let's take the old ranch. They had to put in some wells to get the water.
When we had a drought in our area, we used to flood the land and use it for
storage. If we were alerted of it, [we could] just make it through. There were
some dry times. I'll tell you, as a farmer, if I had to go down the tubes, I'd rather
drown out than dry out. There's nothing you can do about that drying out. We had
floods. In 1958, when they opened up the Bobtail Turnpike, we had a frog
strangler [a downpour] the night before they opened it up and [it] washed the
road out. [Cecil] Farris Bryant [Florida governor, 1961-1965] went down the road
and had to go down the middle of the road; it was either Farris or LeRoy Collins
[Florida governor, 1955-1961]. I forget which one it was. It was seriously wet.
P: Let's talk about your political career. You were first elected to the Florida Senate
in 1970. When you went to Tallahassee, were flood control and water issues at
the top of your agenda?
L: Not per se, but it ended up getting to be on my agenda. For example, we needed
to change the 298 District and there was a House member from my district over
in the west coast. My district went from Palm Beach, Hendry, [and] Lee Counties,
clear across the state.
P: And you had Glades County too, I believe.
L: [I had] Glades too, yes. There was a tremendous amount of need for water in
some of those areas. For instance, that west coast [district] had uncapped
artesian wells, and eventually we got them capped. [Here's] another side story. I
went into that delegation meeting one day and they're in there discussing a water
management district and how much they're going to charge per acre. The little
farmer says, I can't afford that. He said that's too much money at one time. [He
said], I'm buying 320 or 640 acres; I'll go broke. I said, wait a minute-I'm in the
tail end of the conversation-you don't have to do that. [I said,] you're in the
district, your big neighbor can buy the bonds [and] that way you can get the
whole thing done. [I said], you can pay him off in ten years, or whatever you're
comfortable with, pay a little interest, and it will be taken care of. His neighbor
says, gee, that's a great idea, we'll do the same thing. So they didn't all have to
put the money up. It ended up, I checked up on them the following year, the only
[person who] paid cash and finished it up was that little farmer. The mechanisms
within those little districts were great, and we couldn't have functioned without the
flexible districts. It was where you got rid of your water and that's where you got
your water from.
P: Talk about the Florida Water Resources Act , which created, as you know,
the five water management districts. What was your part in getting that legislation
L: You know, I've been trying ever since I heard you were coming to figure out what
I did have to do with it. Let me tell you what my part of that was. I'm in my office
one day in Tallahassee and Jim Apthorp [Governor Askew's chief of staff], comes
to see me. He said, Governor [Reubin O.] Askew [Florida governor, 1971-1979]
wants you to head up passing that millage election for those water management
districts up to 1 mill on four of the districts, and .005 mill [for the] Northwest
[Florida Water Management District]. [It's a] terrible mistake they made, but that's
neither here nor there. So, ultimately, I agreed to do it and I covered this state.
We passed it by [a] great margin, 100,000 votes. The north end of the state did
not vote for it, [but] the south end did because the south end had had experience
with water management districts and had recognized, what would we do without
P: Plus [SWFWMD] "Swiftmud" [Southwest Florida Water Management District]
and South Florida Flood Control already had ad valorem taxing authority. But the
new districts did not, so I presume some people voted against it because they
didn't want any additional taxes.
L: That's right.
P: The southern population, I guess, was for it.
L: Oh, they were for it.
P: Now when you were getting the bill, as I understand it, the bill was based on
Dean Frank Maloney's [a water law expert from the University of Florida] Chapter
373 [which laid out a statewide water resource allocation framework; based on "A
Model Water Code" (Maloney, et al., 1972)], which was a water code. Do you
remember how closely they followed Maloney's plan?
L: My guess [is that] it was pretty close. The person who you need to put on your
list for sure is [Robert] Bob Graham [Florida governor, 1979-1987]. Graham was
one of the real leaders in this water management thing.
P: He would have been a state senator [Bob Graham, a Florida state senator, 1970-
1978] at that time.
L: He would have been a state senator at that time. He was the one that handled it
and clutched it to his bosom and ran it through the legislature. When the rewriter
sees [Chapter] 373, as far as water was concerned, those four bills [were] the
most far reaching legislation passed in any state in the United States in that year.
P: Why do you think it happened in Florida at that time? I know a lot of people,
when this began, said, we'll never get all these bills passed.
L: But they ended up doing it.
P: Why did it happen in Florida and why in 1972?
L: [Because it was necessary; however, the passage of the millage authorization
was not until 1975 and 1976.] I think there was a number of things. First of all,
they had a great leader, [Governor] Askew. Askew had held a water conference
in Boca Raton with a tremendous diversity of people. They went down and
showed what needed to be done. This was a cross section of people all over the
state. I was one of the guys there. It sort of warmed everybody up. Then land use
and land planning became a big issue. [Senator] Graham had data, but the most
significant bill of those four bills was the water management bill.
P: During that time, obviously, there were a lot of legislative hearings. I don't know if
you conducted them or you were there, but what was the opposition to the water
management bill? Who was in favor of it?
L: Well that's an interesting question. First of all, there was that group who did not
want to pay any more taxes. That's just an easy one. The second group was a
group of environmental people who didn't think the bill went far enough. We
believed that we had gone farther than we ever thought we ever could do.
Believe it or not, the Audubon [Society] came out against it. I was at their dinner
party the night that they did it.
P: Was this Charles Lee [senior vice president of the Florida Audubon Society] at
L: [This was] Charles Lee. I was on a panel, and I was supposed to be the guest
speaker. I'll never forget it as long as [I live]. I came to the hotel there in Orlando
that's down there by the lake, the old Hardy Hotel. I [was] coming up the stairs
and Sam Morgan came over to me and said, you think you're the main speaker
tonight, don't you? I said, yeah, I am. He said, no, you're in a debate, you and
Graham [are] against [Buddy] McKay [Florida Lieutenant Governor, 1991-1998;
acting Florida governor 12/98-1/99] and somebody from the Audubon. That ain't
right, that just isn't right, but we took them on anyhow. I could tell they had made
up their mind to be against it. I was flabbergasted. They went into session after
we left and the board had voted no confidence; they were not going to support it.
So we had them around, making [that] a pretty influential group of people. But we
were right, and we knew were right. For example, the Northwest Florida group
was opposed to it because of the tax it had angled, and they had put a .05 or
.005 millage on them. It was like putting nothing on them. [They] passed a
resolution of all of the legislators from that area saying, we don't have a water
problem. They had a big water problem, [and] they still have a big water problem.
I think only 15-18 percent of their water comes from Florida, the rest of it comes
from Georgia and Alabama. But now they don't have any money to do what they
should do, so the legislature's going to have to get around that somehow.
P: So the legislature reduced the millage in order to try to get people from North
Florida to support water management.
L: Right, and they still voted no. I went over to meet with the newspaper people,
and even they were against it. I said, well it's marvelous, I think. I knew better,
but I said, I think it's wonderful that you all don't have any water problems. He
said, what are you talking about? He said, we've got salt water intrusion in wells.
I said, I'm only going by what your delegation said. He said, we're having big
problems and I expect we're going to have more. And of course they have [had
more problems]. That will eventually take care of itself because they're either
going to flood out or dry out, one or the other, sooner or later. Those rolling hills
up there are beautiful, but they can also give you trouble when you need water.
P: Where was agribusiness in all this?
L: Agribusiness, for the most part, was for it. The ones that were not for it were the
citrus people up in what they call the [Florida] Ridge area, up in Central Florida.
They came out swinging; they were opposed to it. These were all people I knew
very well, but I didn't back off. I was convinced this was the thing to do. I went
around and spoke until my throat was dry. The day before that election I'd have
bet $1,000 we were going to lose it, because every place we went we had these
people [and others] that didn't get it. But the proponents stayed at home [when I
was speaking], and [then] they came out to vote. They voted big time.
P: Who were the largest supporters of the Water Resources Bill?
L: I would say [it was] probably the large farmers, developers, [environmentalists,
and people in general]..
P: So the developers were in favor.
L: [The] developers were [in favor] too, because they knew they needed water, and,
if somebody didn't get a hold of that water thing and manage it correctly, they
were going to be up the creek.
P: They would be up the creek, both literally and figuratively.
L: That's right, both ways. It was a great experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed
the experience. I found out how big Florida is. It is a big state when you're
traveling around it. I think back now, the legacy of keeping this state with water,
this program is for people to come and look at it from all over the world. This is a
first class operation; nobody has to hang their head.
P: One of the problems in the legislative process were there were so many
amendments put on this bill. What kind of amendments were there? How did you
deal with all those amendments in order to come up with a final bill?
L: Well, like you do with a lot of those bills, you try to beat them down at the time.
Graham did a enormous job on that. You have to remember, and this is not trying
to be negative with anybody, but so many people did not know anything about
water management. The minute you have water management, you need a
permit, and nobody likes to get permits. That was enough to stir up a pot of
people. But the fact is, we ended up getting it through. If I had it to do over again,
I would do it. An interesting thing, one of the South Florida Water Management
District board members called all the counties where I was elected to see if it
passed so that I wouldn't get any opposition in the next election, which I didn't.
He wanted to make sure that all those people, all six of my counties, voted for it,
because they all know what it is. See, it's one thing to say, I don't [want] water
management because I'm going to have to pay something for it. Where did they
go the first time they'd have a problem and couldn't get water? They came to the
water management district. I saw that time and again. I had one of my best
friends from up in North Florida call me. He said, you've got to help us, we
haven't got any water; our lakes are drying up. I said, that can't possibly be. He
was one of the ones that signed that petition. About a month and a half later
Mother Nature came in and corrected the problem and they had flooding. One of
the things that irritated me with this, [and] I don't know that they did it or said it, I
picked it out of this thing that counselor uttered, that these water management
districts were put together haphazardly and there wasn't any thought given to it.
Nothing could be further from the truth than that statement. They were all basin
P: So it was based on natural watersheds?
L: Yes, they were based on natural watersheds. I remember when we kicked the
thing off, Governor Askew wasn't there. So Jim Williams, who was the lieutenant
governor [of Florida, 1975-1979], was there; [Judge Robert] Bob [L.] Shevin
[attorney general of Florida, 1971-1979] and the rest of the cabinet [was there]. I
announced it and went through it and then each one of them got up and spoke. I
said, it's over with now, and all the press started leaving. I said, wait a minute,
get back and sit down for a minute [and] put your note pads down. [I said,] I want
to get something straight with you. [I said,] there will be nothing that will kill this
quicker than [if] you all start writing in your articles [that] this guy is giving one
story in Jacksonville, another story in Tampa, and another story in Miami. [I told
them,] there's a reason for that. There are different stories [because of the
different watershed basins]. Much to the presses credit, I never saw them violate
that. They hung in there.
P: Who made the actual decision to pursue this Constitutional amendment to give
them the ad valorem taxing authority? Obviously, anytime you have a
Constitutional amendment and you have a statewide vote, it's a major project.
And obviously, as you said earlier, people didn't know much about water
management. When that decision was made, did you think at that point you could
pass that amendment?
L: We knew we were going to give it every effort we could. I thought we were going
to have more trouble. Then, when we pick up opponents like the Audubon
Society, I said, oh, man, are we in trouble. But we overcame that. I went and
spoke to clubs and all over [to] getting the actual people to understand what this
was. One of the meetings I was at [was comprised of] a bunch of bright, [well-
educated] women. One [woman] said, my plumbing needs [to be] fixed. I knew I'd
not gotten right through her. Another one [said that] her water bill was too high.
But in comes the head lady for the group and she says, are we going to support
this and vote for it? Every hand went up, yes. That's all I cared about at that
time. At that point you're just trying to pass something. Another thing it needs to
be, [and] I think at some point I highlighted [this], that there's always a question
about the districts levying taxes-and they're not elected. The fact is, they're not
elected, but the legislature's elected and the legislature authorizes that tax. They
can run that tax down to .0 [millage] if they want, or let it go up. They're all
elected. That's not really a fair charge. They're levying under the authorization [of
When I headed up the committee, I learned it yesterday, it was called the
Carlucci Committee. I thought it was John MacKay's Committee. But we went
and studied the water management districts. There's a couple of reasons they
passed that study commission. One was [that] they were running wild on costs
[doubling the districts' budget]. I said, gee, that's something different. He said,
yeah, they've been running wild. So I got in there and looked at it and they
weren't running wild, not by a darn sight. They had some figures that they were
trying to get justified, and that was why the legislature thought so much of their
acquisition. They wanted them to buy all the environmentally endangered land.
The other complaint was that their budget doubled in one year. Well, when they
sent all that money down there to buy the environmentally endangered land, of
course their budget doubled. So we got that straightened out.
P: One of the criticisms, both then and now, of the water management districts is
that there's really not enough supervision. In other words, these are the boards
appointed by the governor. Then, other than either the cabinet or Department of
Natural Resources or DER [Department of Environmental Regulation] or DEP
[Department of Environmental Protection], they don't have a lot of precise
regulation. Some people argue they're taxing us and there's no accountability.
L: I have a little problem with that one. I can only measure when I was there, and
when I was there, there sure was accountability. When the [district] came to
Tallahassee to get money, they came through us just like everybody else did. I
don't know where they got that, but the water management districts file their
budget in as many places as anybody else in the government, or more. They file
it with the DER or DEP, whatever it's called; they file it with the governor's office,
[and] they file it with the speaker and the president, not once but twice. [They
have to file it for] the amended [one] brought up to date [too]. I told one of the
senators when he was grousing about [and] nobody supervising him; I said,
you're lucky you've got a friendly press. [I said,] if they're not being supervised
and not being looked at, guess whose fault that is. I said, that's youall's fault. I
said, I'm not pointing fingers at you, I'm just saying, what more can they do? I
said, they almost spoon feed you now.
P: Now when the new districts were created, because it's going to take them awhile
to raise money, the legislature did fund them initially?
L: I think they gave us some money initially, yes.
P: To get them started?
L: [They gave us some money] to get them started, particularly the newer ones.
P: But after that, by and large, they are funded by the ad valorem taxes, except for
land conservation and those sort of purchases.
L: That's right. That type of thing is a separate fund. They have a trust fund for that.
P: When they started out, obviously a lot of thought went into the bill. In retrospect
do you think it's better that they are appointed as opposed to being elected?
L: I have thought about that a lot, and the answer is unequivocally [that it's better
they are] appointed. To see an elected process, I think it would be a disaster for
those districts. That could be a real disaster for them.
P: Do you think, in your knowledge, that Askew, when he appointed members of the
board, created a diverse group of people so that there would be a cattleman, an
environmentalist, etcetera? Do you think that those appointments were qualified
L: Yes, I think they were [qualified].
P: Do you think these boards have functioned effectively over the years?
L: Yeah, I think for the most part [they have functioned effectively]. I think I
mentioned that there are glitches in every ordinance, but for the most part I would
say that they have operated very well and done well by the people of Florida.
P: I was curious about the board members, as to why they would want to do this.
They don't get paid anything and they have to go to meetings and do a lot of
work. It's very complicated science. Why do you think people serve on these
L: That's a good question, but being on that board challenges anybody who's on it.
That's not going to be the P and Z board or the little old rinky-dink board, this is a
board where when you make an action, it has a massive impact. The desire to
serve is there, and when you're dealing with water, such a fundamental thing, I
think [it] titillates your curiosity. But you're right about that, it is a lot of work.
Sometimes those papers are piled two feet high and it takes a lot of reading, a lot
of concentration, and a lot of getting brought up to speed. But I think they desire
it. Why does anybody get on these boards really? If you do it and do the job, you
have to do a lot of homework. In the water management districts, it's just not a
little bit, it's a heap. I think that the people consider it a real honor, a privilege.
P: Jack Maloy [former South Florida Water Management District executive director]
said that a lot of people on these boards, and particularly on his board, were civic
minded citizens. He thought one of the great advantages of these boards, was
that they were regional. They represented regional interests, and by having a
diverse group, you got all different viewpoints. Their decision making, of course,
is based on the recommendations of the professional staff, but he said he
thought it was a good idea to have different people talk about their ideas and
what was important to them. He felt that that way you got a real good airing of all
the different views, and, in the long run, that made a better final decision. Would
you agree with that?
L: Oh, yeah, absolutely. If there's anybody that knows that, it would be him. That's
why I say, the board members that are appointed are generally very
conscientious and they realize that what they're doing is very important. A lot of
jobs you get from government really are somewhat minuscule and it doesn't
amount to much, but in this one you're amounting to a lot. What you do may
affect somebody for the next fifty or one hundred years.
P: Do you think today, based on the initial ad valorem fees, that the water
management districts have enough money to carry out their responsibilities?
L: The answer to that is [that they have enough money] most of the time. There are
times when expansions need to be made, changes need to be made, renewal of
dikes and so forth, then I think it'd be marginal. I don't think they're going to have
to get money from someplace else, like the state. One of the things that I think
the state has done over the years, and this is my own opinion [because] I've
never really heard anybody else say this, [is use the water management districts'
money]. There's a provision in the constitution that says you shall not use ad
valorem taxes for state purposes. Well, the legislature in recent years has been
using the water management districts' ability to tax for their own benefit. I think
that's wrong. [The other thing is the legislature is sending more projects for the
districts to do.]
P: Jack Maloy said that's a real problem. [He said] that the water management
districts have enough to do without the politician's adding to the list, because
there are certain pet projects that they can't fund in the legislature so they dump
them on water management.
L: Exactly. There was another group that I finally got that going for me [by] just
hanging in there and being persistent, and that was the funding of the judiciary
system. When the people passed the judiciary Article Five law in 1974, or
whenever it was, it was big talk. The state was going to take over the courts.
Well, we made a run at it the first year. We weren't going to take it all over at
once, we were going to take it over in steps. I think, one year, not only didn't we
pick it up, [but] we put more on them. That became a real problem. I was on a
judicial management commission and talked the judges into looking at that. Then
the legislature passed a bill to plan on taking it over, which they have done. They
haven't gotten it totally done yet, but it's underway.
P: One of the options eventually might be, and it's been discussed to some degree,
user fees. How would you feel about that as a source of revenue?
L: Well, I hate to think of the districts doing that. One of the other things we've got a
problem with, [and] I don't know how Jack feels about this [because] I haven't
talked to him in a long time, is that the cities and the counties are wanting to go in
and rearrange the chairs on the Titanic so that it's to their benefit. I maintain that
water management districts should be self-raising money and take care of
themselves and they make more supply available and let everybody go at it. Now
there was this big talk two years ago about selling off our water [to private users].
Putting it mildly, how I feel about that is I am absolutely opposed to that.
[End of side Al]
P: While we're on that subject, now there is this threat of the water wars. As you
know, St. Pete/Tampa would like to get some of the water from North Florida and
have that moved across water management boundaries. There is a problem, as
you also know, as you mentioned, with the water coming from Alabama and
Georgia and who owns that water and how is it to be distributed. What is your
view on how the water management districts ought to deal with that issue?
L: Well, I think they have all the laws they need to do that right now. I think we set it
up a number of years ago. If there is enough justification to transfer water
around, I think they can do it. One of these reports from the [Florida] Council of
100, whether it was their report or whether it was the newspapers, they said 80
percent of the population is south of 1-4 and 80 percent of the water is north of I-
4. So I checked [those statistics]. I wanted to verify that before I used it, and I
called up the North Water Management District and they said, we're just coming
out of a terrible drought. They said, we've been in a drought for four years. I said,
you ought to be happy, they'll pump all that water north. He said, yeah, I hear
you. So they're getting concerned about somebody getting serious about this.
The discussion of pumping the water out of North Florida into South Florida has
been around, and particularly into Swiftmud [Southwest Florida Water
Management District], for many years. It sounds real easy, but, when you take a
certain amount of water out of the Suwannee and those other rivers, it has a
direct effect on the fish beds and so forth in the Gulf of Mexico. They're going to
have a problem with that. That's one of the problems. There's some off shore
artesian wells, [and there's been discussion about] tapping those. I don't know
what that would cost or whether anybody's done any real thinking about that. I
know Claude Kirk [Florida governor, 1967-1971] did. But this report that talks
about going up and taking that water from North Florida has got some people
P: [Jeb] Bush [Florida governor, 1999-present] talked about setting up a state water
board, which apparently would have authority over the water management
districts and could conceivably make decisions just like that. Would you approve
of such a board?
L: Nope, [we] don't need it. We don't need a board like that.
P: So that would just be another layer of bureaucracy?
L: Yeah, that's another layer of bureaucracy. That [is] coming from a group of
businesspeople, astoundingly. I suspect it doesn't astound you when you say,
well, if they can control who gets appointed then they've got this thing made.
[They could do] whatever they want to do. But we sure don't need another layer
P: So what you're saying is the governor could appoint whoever he wanted who
agreed with him, and then with political appointments, they could override the
water management districts?
P: So you fear that would be the approach the board took?
L: I don't think there's any question that that's what it would be.
P: Well how do we deal with the problems in St. Pete and Tampa? Many people
talked about de-salinization, but you know that plant has had a lot of problems.
It's gone bankrupt. How do you solve the water problems in urban areas? Is the
answer conservation or recycling?
L: I think it's going to be a multitude of things. I don't think it's going to be just one
thing, [but] I think it's going to be a series of things. Here we're building a huge
reservoir. It's going to be 1,000 acre feat [and] fifty feet deep. That's under
construction right now. I suspect that St. Pete and Tampa are going to have to
work that problem out. I think the reservoirs are tapping North Florida. I think it is
the last thing you do, not the first thing that jumps into your mind. I don't blame
those North Florida guys for getting all upset. What do we do with them? We're
going to have to do something, and I haven't got the solution to that. First of all,
they went for many years where they were warring with one another. I mean it
was a shoot out at the OK Corral [a famous historic gunfight sight in Tombstone,
Arizona]. Then I think Jack Latvala [Florida Senate Resources Committee
chairman] and maybe one or two other guys got together and put the old arm on
P: You mean the water management districts?
L: Yeah, the water management districts and the local sub-districts over there.
Louie DeLaparte, do you know him? Did you ever know Louie DeLaparte [State
P: Yeah, I know him.
L: I'll never forget a statement he made. [He said], it isn't that we're running short on
water, we're running short of cheap water. That's true, and we're going to have to
begin to pay for it. When we were having a hearing a few years ago in Orlando
we [were] told about that desalination plant. What happens is, he said, people
don't like it because they're going to be charged $3.50 to have 1,000 [gallons] for
the product. I looked at a bottle of water like [bottled water] that and I [did] a poor
calculation of what that guy was saying. I figured it out [and] I said, that can't
possibly be. I calculated it out to be $400 [for] 1,000 [gallons].
P: So we're talking here about Evian bottled water that you might pay $2.50 for at
the grocery store.
L: When I went over to see Florida Power, I said, have you guys ever calculated
what that is? They said, no, but that's a good idea. When I got back here there
was a fax. They'd sent two of their people out to price out water in various parts
of the cities. The cheapest one was Publix. You bring your own gallon jug [to put
water in]. It's $275 [for] 1,000. It went up to Perrier [French bottled spring] water,
which was $8,000 [for] 1,000. So there's nonsense about this is costing too
much, but we're coming to the day in Florida that we're not going to have cheap
P: So people's water bills are going to be like their electric bills?
L: It'll be higher. That's right, eventually they're going to be higher.
P: Do you see that price hike as being, at least to some degree, as an act of
conservation? In other words, the higher the cost, the more likely people are to
L: That's right, that's a very good observation. What do they call that water that they
carry off the surface?
P: Are you talking about recycled water?
L: [We'll have to use] recycled water.
P: So you can use those for golf courses and things like that. Then retaining run off
is a good way to get water. What about underwater aquifer storage? Do you think
that's viable idea?
L: I think it's very possible. Now the second question is, do I think it's a great idea? I
think it's going to be very tough to sell when you send that water down into the
ground and then return [it]. But we know if we're sending down treated water in
the ground, if it's good enough to drink when it goes down, it's good enough to
drink when you bring it back up. It's just sitting down there by itself. But whether
that'll sell in the lunch time, I don't know.
P: Do you think, over the period of time you were associated with the water
management districts, that they managed to interact effectively and exchange
ideas as opposed to being competitive?
L: Yes, I might say they could do more of it, but I don't think they're that competitive
anymore. I think they sit down and talk about problems. I used to give them hell
about the rule making. I said, your rules ought to be consistent. [You should] not
[have] one rule here and one rule there. It's very true, the rules cannot be the
same, because a situation in the district is different. [For example], say we don't
have any of those [artesian] wells, but someplace else does, you've got to have
somebody who knows what they're doing on that. [Someone has to know] how to
dig wells. I said, unless there's a major difference, if you have a rule on digging
wells, why do you have five different sets of rules? There's parts of this up in the
Ridge area where you can be on the same farm and [in] two or three different
districts, and each one of them has their own set of rules.
P: Yes, and Swiftmud [Southwest Florida Water Management District] has had a lot
of problems with that, haven't they?
L: Yeah, [they've had a lot of problems with that]. I think they're making every effort
to get that corrected. That is one of the things I gave them hell [about]. I went
through my speech last night [that] I gave on the twenty-fifth anniversary. I had
gone back and picked up the speech I gave them. When I did that one back
twenty-five years before, I think I was their first speaker. Then on the twenty-fifth
[anniversary] I was giving [another speech]. And I might add, I made a jackass
out of myself. They'd ask me to give the audience an overview of water
management in Florida from the 1800s, which I did. Henry [Dean] had it all done,
so I just took his speech and did it. [It] was very well done. It had all the
amendments, very little amendments, but he did put some on. I said to them
when I started, when I finish this talk, I'm going to have another talk, mine, not
your subject. So I got to the end and I said, now, I understand we're going to be
selling our birthright, we're going to sell all the water we have to private
enterprise. I said, there ain't no way! I didn't know it, but some of the preachers
were sitting there. I'm not a good speaker. When I looked out there in that crowd
and I saw them standing up and clapping, I said, uh oh, I guess somebody
agrees with me. There hasn't been much said about it since. Of course, that
ended up it was Enron who was trying to do it. I thought to myself, oh, my
P: That would have been a disaster in every way you can imagine.
L: I don't want these people talking. This morning's paper, I don't know whether you
saw it, but it has a subject in there [that says,] maybe the districts will be taken
over by private enterprise to be run. Come on guys. You know there's some
things that belong in the public's hand, and this is one of them. This is something
that belongs in the public's hands. When I see this, I don't know who the [heck]
they're trying to prove or who they're trying to get approval from, but I think it's
terrible, I really do. You can say, well there's nothing government does that
private enterprise can't do better, [but] I'll challenge anybody that wants to do that
P: Let me ask you, did you have anything to do with the passage of the
[Environmental and Land Management Study] ELMS Law?
L: No, I was gone when that passed.
P: Okay, you were gone by then. When you were working with water management,
was there, at any time, an overview that land management and water
management and growth management needed to be incorporated into one
overall plan for the state of Florida?
L: The answer to that is yes, there was a lot of conversation about it. Several of the
studies made while I was there said [that] we've got to find out about our water to
take care. We've got millions of people moving in, where the [heck] are we going
to get the water? That's true, we have an abundance of water in Florida because
of our rainfall. When you think about the difference, we get an average of about
sixty to sixty-six inches of water a year that falls from the sky. In California it's
thirteen inches. It's a marvel that we've got [so much water], but we [have] it.
P: So sometimes we would think we have a drought in the state of Florida when we
only get thirty inches.
L: Right, ponds dry up and things like that, and the grass starts turning. It's that kind
of thing. Parts of Lake Okeechobee, the bottom starts showing up.
P: What impact do you think the Cross Florida Barge Canal had on water and water
L: I can tell you up front [that] I don't know enough about it to answer that.
P: Over the years, how have the environmental groups changed? Have they
become more influential than they were in the early 1970s?
L: The environmental groups grew in power during the 1960s and 1970s, and then
they sort of tapered off. I think they have got to be more reasonable in their
discussions with people now. They used to be very vitriolic and [say,] I'm going to
put you in jail. [There was] all that kind of business, but now they've calmed
P: One of the interesting developments is that most people don't know the
environmental groups don't agree on policy. I think people see them as this
unified group, but in fact they are not. The point you brought up about the
Audubon Society, I think, reflects that, does it not?
L: I can tell you that the next day, the woman who I argued with called me and she
said, I want your brochures and bumper stickers and everything. She was an
Audubon board member if I recall [correctly], and she said, I can't believe they
took that position. [She said], we need this water management so bad. I said,
well, I appreciate your help. So they had a fractured group even among
themselves. But we didn't have a lot of fighting except with Audubon-they went
right out on the limb to stop it.
P: One of the issues that's become I guess more important as time has gone on is
who or what organization in this state is responsible for water quality. You had
the Department of Natural Resources, then it's DER, then it's DEP, and obviously
they have to work hand in hand with the water management. Do you think that
institutional system has worked effectively?
L: That's one of the glitches I think could be cleaned up. [Is it] still the three? I
thought it was just DEP. I thought we transferred everything [to them], permitting
P: Today it is just DEP.
L: It is?
P: Yeah, I just meant over a period of time who's technically responsible for water
L: Oh, DEP is, I think.
P: But obviously they have to work very closely with the water management
districts. Do you think they have done that effectively?
L: Well, they moved in the offices out here. I found out about that four or five years
ago. They're in the South Florida Water Management District's offices, so that
when you go in [you get] a one-stop permit. I think that's worked very well.
Sometimes, however, you find one agent being overzealous. I had a [gentleman]
in my office handling a job. It was a first class job, first class everything, and I
said, gee, I ain't been down at one of those hearings in a long time, how about
taking the old man down with you? He said, alright, if you promise you'll keep
your mouth shut. I said, okay, I'll keep my mouth shut until I think I need [to do]
otherwise. So I go down there with them. It was very interesting. Here are all
these groups of environmental protection people, all pulling one way [while] one
is pulling another way. There was no way we were going to get a permit out of
that crowd. They couldn't agree on anything. I left there, went down to the head
man and said, I want to be out of there. [I said], I'm going to go down to Jack
[Maloy], then I'm going to go down and see so and so, and then I'm going back in
there, and when I get back in there, there better be some resolve. [I said], this is
for the birds; I don't know all that technical stuff, [but] I can tell you it sounds like
garbage to me. He said, I'll check it. So he sent in some guy and the guy came in
there and he said, oh, everybody was right, now here's what we do. And they did
it, and it ended up being a great job. Everybody was pleased with what
happened. Sometimes they just get overzealous in their permitting.
P: How do developers today view water management districts?
L: I can't tell you that [because] I don't know. I don't mess around with developers
anymore. I would say I've never heard them complain too much about them. It's
all the side issues, the side places, that give them the trouble.
P: For example?
L: Well, for instance, cities or counties, when they're going to get a permit, it takes
you forever and a day to run through and get it. My son-in-law is in the building
business. I remember talking about it [with him]. I'm not talking about building a
new building. I'm talking about doing a touch up and fixing up the inside of a
house. [It takes] seven to eight weeks for a permit. Now that's not for the water
management district, but it's all that kind of stuff that really causes government
more black eyes than anything else.
P: But would you agree that a regional impact statement on a major development is
L: I would agree with that, [but], again, as long as they don't take forever and a day
to do it. A statement of regional impact is [important]. [Do] you see that silver
book over yonder? My wife's picture is sitting on it. I had John [D.] MacArthur's
[of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; a wealthy businessman
and developer who owned extensive acreage in Florida at one time] picture
sitting on it. It was a thing about that thick. It talked about every kind of bird and
bee and every kind of grass that you could think of. I think when you're doing a
major, major project, it's essential to do that.
P: Why do citizens of the state know very little about water management districts?
L: That's a good question, [because] they're in the paper practically every day. I can
give you this answer, and it may be the answer that that lady gave me when I
finished talking about it. I was down to the elementary explanations of the water
management because of these people that were in that room, they and their
colleagues vote. I had not mentioned a faucet leaking, [but] that's where they
tend to tie their water to. I can go in and turn the faucet on and the water's
working without them being worried about it. I don't think that they don't care
about the water management, I think that they just don't relate to it, particularly all
your Northerners. [The Northerners] wouldn't know what [in the world] you're
P: Well, they would if they couldn't water their lawns or they had a flood.
L: No question about it.
P: How best should the water management districts educate the people about their
L: Well, I think that's a necessary item and [they should educate them through]
radio, TV, and the like. I think it's important that they know. I don't even know
whether they get any complaints about the taxing, that's what's amazing to me.
Also part of the thing is that the flood control aspect of the water management
district is very sensitive to people. They don't want that damn water in their yard.
As I said when we open it up, I said to you, it's no longer a flood control district.
The [heck] it isn't, let the flood come and it sure is. That's when they really are
aware of what's going on. I think that the water management districts can always
do a better job on selling themselves. They've got a lot to be proud of. They don't
have to hang their head for anybody. They certainly could do a better job than
P: What are the greatest strengths of the water management districts?
L: First of all, they're regional in nature. They cover all of South Florida or the
Tampa Bay area or [wherever]. Generally speaking, they have the knowhow.
[Governor] Chiles put me as head of the recovery [study commission] after
[Hurricane] Andrew. We did a study on [Hurricane] Andrew. It was on hurricane
emergency services. I wanted to give the responsibility for hurricanes to the
water management districts, and you can understand why. They cover all the
places. Now it just so happened that [Hurricane] Andrew only covered South
Dade [County], because that's where it hit, but the water management district
had a big part in that thing cleaning up all those canals and everything. At any
rate, I think the strength of the water management district is [that] they have the
brains, they have the knowhow, and they have the ability to move ahead when
they have crisis. I don't want to say everyday, but they are crisis oriented.
Whereas a city or county has [crises] occasionally, [the water management
districts] have them all the time. [It's always] the water's running out over there,
the water's running out over here, not enough water here, not enough water
there. They're like the good [keepers of the water].
P: Plus, they now have hydrologists, engineers, a lot of science data, and obviously
legal skill, that helps them deal with a lot of these problems.
L: They've got a lot of brain power in that. I think, for the most part, they're a
dedicated group of people.
P: What do you see as the major weaknesses of the water management district?
L: I suspect a lack of understanding by the people and the legislature needs to be
corrected, particularly now that you've got the turnover in the legislative
processes that we didn't have before. I think the state is at risk because of that
turnover and constant term limits. One of the single biggest mistakes I think we
ever did [was to create term limits]. The people, I know, felt satisfied. The person
who ran the thing sure thought he was doing a favor for everybody, but I don't
think it's worth a toot myself. But, at any rate, I think that the biggest thing is is
trying to get people oriented. The learning curve on water management is not a
quick study. It takes awhile to get yourself up that ladder. I remember on that
[Florida Environmental Reorganization Act of 1975], just doing that was a big, big
job. We had to transfer all that real estate owned by the state and move it. All
those areas that had been protected for manatees to what have you, when we
were transferring that bill afterwards. We got this legislature, and mainly the
speaker and the president, to agree that the bill for amending was open
everywhere save one place. That had to do with transferring the real estate out of
the trustees' Internal Improvement [Trust] Fund. [Our sentiment was,] don't touch
that [or] we'll screw up the titles, and we never had any problem. We did have
one or two pieces of the property that were protected over on the west coast that
somehow got dropped out, but we got them back in the next year. That was five
[or] six months [when] [Governor] Reubin Askew and Dempsey Barron [Florida
state senator, 1960-1988] were going at it. I was the Henry Kissinger [Secretary
of State, 1973-1977; assistant to the President for National Security Affairs,
1969-1975] between the two of them. [They are both] two fascinating, great men.
P: What do you see as the focus of the water management districts in the next ten
to twenty years? What should they concentrate on? What should be their goals?
L: Well, I don't think it's just one. I think it's several things. Water supply has got to
be one of them, pollution has got to be closely tied to that, and conservation and
protection of the water supply [is also important]. I think it's a must to have that
water supply protected. I think that's going to be one of their big jobs.
P: How powerful are lobbyists in the legislature? For example, how powerful are
people like Wade Hopping [a prominent Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist]? Do
the agribusiness interests have greater sway, for example, than the average
L: Lobbyists will always have more sway because they have the time to concentrate
on whatever they're doing. If there is a real mass type of exposure where the
masses are involved, the masses will win. But if it's just pure knockdown, drag
out an amendment here and an amendment there [that is] put out by the Wade
Hopping crowd, Wade Hopping is [going to get it]. The legislature listens to
Wade. First of all, one of the things about Wade Hopping [is that] everybody
trusts him. I know him well, I have known him,[but I] didn't always agree with him,
but he's a very bright fellow. But to answer your question, who's got the most
influence, unless there's a riot or something, they always have the influence. It's
not just Wade Hopping, it's all of them, because all of them have the access and
will get to the legislators.
One time, [as] just sort of a side issue, two of the lady journalists came to me and
said, we want fifteen minutes of your time to talk about lobbying. I said, I won't
give you fifteen minutes, [but] I'll give you an hour or two. I said, that's all you
ever want to know is fifteen minutes worth. [She said], alright, that's good. At first
what they were going to do is take the number one lobbyist out and take the
lobbying out of the system. Who's the number one lobbyist? The media. Think
about it a minute. [They have] editorials. It's number one, without question. Then
we're going to take out all of the paying lobbyists. Now you think that I picked out
some bill that we were working on. [If you] take the lobbyist out of there and let
the legislature vote on that cold turkey, you wouldn't want to live in Florida. I said,
for every lobbyist going this way, there may be two going this way, and that's
how that gets out. I said, they're not all bad. Crooked lobbyists don't have a
chance. I don't know how it is now, but I can tell you, the lobbyists that lies and
gets caught, his job is finished. The appeal process is interesting. You can bring
the person in and put him before the rules committee [and] they [will] vote him
down or punish him in a short period of time. He won't go across the street to the
Supreme Court to say, look what they did to me. The Supreme Court says, you
have no access here, that's a legislative matter. But the point I'm getting at is that
the lobbyists have influence. There is no question about it.
P: When we look at the goals you just talked about for the water management
districts in the future, what are going to be the biggest obstacles or challenges to
achieving these goals? Are they going to be technological, environmental,
financial, or political?
L: Well, I'd have to say, all of the above. When you go to tackling that water supply
problem, for example, you're going to be stepping on somebody's shoes. You've
got to have the influence and you've got to have the technological background to
get through that maze, and [you need to] have the political wherewithal. I don't
envy any of it. I think the water management districts, I may be wholly wrong
about this, but I believe they're working, ten to twenty years down the line, where
we're going to get this water and how we're going to manage it. I think that's a
good program and one that they need to do badly. I'm not going to be around
when that happens, but they're going to have a problem at some point.
P: Obviously, the problem they always face is that they have so many
constituencies all fighting for the same resource. So the difficulty is trying to
L: Right, and if they can perceive and continue to do what I'm hoping they're going
to do on retaining water, rather than dumping it in the ocean or in the Gulf of
Mexico, our water problem may not be near as bad as we all might think it to be.
Building those retention reservoirs just isn't that big a deal. I mean, yeah, they
cost money. As I said, we're not going to run out of water, we're going to run out
of cheap water. I don't think [the price will] get too high, but it's going to be
higher. I think that's something that we have to look at, whether it be the farmer
or somebody in the city.
P: What impact has the Everglades restoration had on the water management
districts, particularly, obviously, South Florida?
L: Well, I think it's had a sobering effect. They're moving ahead with it and, I think,
as a whole, they're pleased with what's going on. It's got to be a challenging
project. I haven't paid that much attention to it frankly, but it's got to be a very
interesting program for the future. I think they're going to make that change that
is necessary to clean up those phosphates in the Everglades.
P: It's a lot more of a burden on South Florida, because now that's another job,
another challenge they have to face.
L: Yeah, South Florida's got that whole thing.
P: Let me ask you about your work as chairman of the Water Management District
Review Commission in 1995. What recommendations did that commission
make? The report was called the "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
L: Well, I think you've got to figure out where that came from. It was set up on
wrong information. When we got into it, some of the things that I mentioned to
you earlier [that they complained about was] that they were going to double their
budget in one year. [People said], that's awful, that's terrible. Well, it was terrible
except for one thing; the legislature is the one that did it when they went into the
water management district. They sent all that money down to buy all that land,
[so] naturally it doubled their budget. [Another complaint was that] they report to
nobody. They reported to the world. Now nobody may be looking, but the fact
was, they were looking on. Let me see if I've got an extra copy of the report.
P: No, that's okay, I know where it is.
L: We made a number of recommendations, [but] I can't remember any of them.
P: But, overall, you found that the water management districts were doing their job
L: By and large, they were doing them efficiently. We had some people grouse
about them. We had one come in that I will never forget. He came in and
absolutely was enraged [talking] about the water management district and the
way they treated him. [We took] a five or ten minute break and he comes up to
me and says, pay no attention to that, I just was trying to give him a hard time.
Well, Henry Dean [executive director of the South Florida Water Management
District] was up there in that district back then, [so] Henry [Dean] calls the guy.
[End of side A2]
L: Henry [Dean] called him and said, I heard what you said about me today and
about the district. [Henry] said, I'm sorry if we've done something like that. [The
guy said,] Henry, I'm just trying to give you a hard time. He said, where I'm from,
we don't have any of this kind of stuff. [Henry] said, where are you from? I'm
going to pull a city. [The guy said], Midland, Texas. [Henry] said, well, that's
something; I'm from Midland, Texas too. Well, that immediately erased the
problem. [He said], what street did you live on? He told him and Henry said, we
lived three blocks away, or whatever it was. So we had some people that came in
and complained about the way the district was run. One of the strangest ones
[was when] I got a speech in the mail made by one of the constituents. He spoke
to one of the state associations and told them how unfair the water management
district was, [how they] went in on his property without asking and a whole series
of things. I said, this is what I'm looking for. We were a week away from the last
meeting. I called him up, as it turned out I happened to know him, and I said,
would you come over and testify? He said, oh, yeah, I'd be glad to. I said, I'm just
reading your speech, and I'm just really put out [by what] they've done to you. I
said, for instance, you mean they came in and raided your property without telling
you? He said, no, they didn't do that. I said, that's what you're saying. [I asked
him about] two or three other things that had caught my eye. I said, you're saying
that none of that happened? Why did you put it in your speech then? He said,
well I wanted to use a little hyperbole. I said, you know what we call that in Palm
Beach County? [We call it] B.S. I said, now if you come and you give this speech,
I will tell you that you're going to be questioned about it. He said, I better not
come then. Now, that man gave a public speech, it was in the newspapers,
talking about these districts. Now I'm not saying that the districts don't need to
have some things straightened out, but, by and large, what we found [is that] they
work well. I think 100 percent of their problem, if they've got any, is how they
handle the public [and] how they handle the guy asking for a permit. If they would
handle [the public] gently and stroke them and not abuse them, I think 90 percent
of their problems would go away.
P: What do you think, in order to meet the challenges of the future, the water
management districts need in terms of resources or information?
L: Well, they probably need more resources, because some of the things they're
talking about are going to cost a lot of money. For example, the Everglades
restoration was at $8.5 billion. That's going to improve a lot of the ancillary
system of getting into that situation. But the districts in general are probably
going to need more money. First of all, you've got to remember [that] some of
these districts are now getting to be forty years old and the capital outlay is
getting wore out. They're going to have to get some new [resources], and that's
going to cost a lot of money. I don't know if that ad valorem [taxes] can [cover] it.
Another thing is, at some point the districts are going to have to figure out, as
well as the counties, how much of the improvements that the water management
can do or also can be applied to the county for improvement. The district [is] in
level projects, but sometimes the county needs help to get some of these done.
One of the things we found out in the Northern Palm Beach County Water
Control District is that we had to do 100 percent of the financing. Nobody else
could do it, and we did it. We did a lot of it. I wish you could get to see that, that
was quite a project.
P: Is there anything that we have not talked about today that you would like to bring
up or would like to discuss?
L: I just think that the water management districts hopefully are here to stay,
number one, that we don't do any precipitous changes that will cause major
problems down the line. I think the water management districts do a darn good
job, but how do we get the message [out] without sounding self-aggrandizing? I
don't know. For instance, I think there's going to be a tell-tale test in the
legislature this year on this recommendation from the Counsel of 100. If they roll
over on that and set up an overall board and go in with that, I think the place is
up for grabs. For example, one of the recommendations was that the districts
contribute enough money to establish that overall board [for] rules and
regulations. You know what will happen? It's going to be taking the districts'
money for a statewide board. They ain't supposed to do that. They're not
supposed to be using the ad valorem taxes for a statewide [board]. They can
change that. They're only asking for $250,000, and they can spend that. That
drops off the table when they're counting. I just hope that this report goes
nowhere, and I've got a feeling that it's going to go somewhere. Not many people
are going to know much about it and it's going to slide up there and slide through.
If I find out it's going to slide around up there, I'm going to be up there, but it's a
P: Is there anything else?
L: No, other than I don't think I contributed much to this.
P: No, you did very well. On that note, I want to thank you very much for your time.