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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Derrill McAteer
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: June 22, 2004
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and I am in Brooksville, Florida. It's June 22, 2004 and
I'm speaking with Derrill McAteer, and Jacob "Jake" Varn [attorney from Fowler
White Boggs, Banker] is with us. When and where were you born?
M: I was born in Tampa, Florida in 1932.
P: Are you a native Floridian?
M: [A] fourth generation [Floridian].
P: Talk about your early years and your educational experience. Did you grew up in
the Tampa area?
M: I grew up in rural Hillsborough County. My parents had a home in Tampa, in
town, but my father had a farming operation outside of Tampa, and I spent as
much of my time there as possible. I was also fortunate enough to enjoy Florida
as it was, in its great history, great times, hunting, fishing. I did it all. I went to
Hillsborough High School. [I] had a mediocre educational base. [I] was not a
particularly good student, but I did graduate and go to the University of Florida.
With the draft board bearing down on me I got to be a better student. I left the
University of Florida, signed on to be a Navy pilot [and] flew for the United States
P: Talk about your experience in the Navy, and what you did and where you were
M: The majority of my career was spent as an all-weather flight instructor, teaching
people to fly in bad weather. I did that very, very well, and I did it for three and a
half years. I loved the Navy. I had a terrible time making myself get out of the
Navy [and I] almost stayed. It's amazing [to think] what my career in life would
have been had I not done so.
P: What years were you in the Navy?
M: From 1955 to 1960. I came out of the Navy and was starting a little animal and
house supply business and feeding a few cattle. I met a man named Mr. Charles
Lykes, of the Lykes family [large Florida landowners, shipping magnates, and
cattle dealers]. [He] asked me if I would fly for him on a part-time basis, which I
did. But as time went on, he asked me to do more and more things, to take over
management of several of the corporate entities. I ended up being president of
their land development company in the end, the last fifteen years. I retired four
times, went back [to work] three times, back to work for him. So it was a great
career. However, during that time they allowed me to do some things on my
own, I built a perpetual care cemetery of my own. My animal health company
went on to become the biggest in the southeast, with their help, and it was just a
great career for an individual to have with a company but yet have some
independence of his own.
P: When did you get interested in water management?
M: Well, when Claude Kirk [Jr., Republican Florida governor, 1967-1971] ran for
governor, he came to see me one day in my office. And he said, now, I'm the
next governor of Florida. And I thought, oh, who is this guy? And he says, I
need you to help me with agricultural interests in the state. I said, governor,
governor-to-be, I haven't got time to get involved in politics. He said, oh, come
on. The third time he came back, [I accepted his offer]. I had spent many, many
trips around Florida on business [and] everywhere I went, people were saying, he
can't win, but I'm voting for Kirk, I'm not voting for Robert King High [Democratic
nominee and mayor of Miami], he's too liberal. So that night, I remember it like it
was yesterday, Walter Cronkite [of CBS news] came on [the television] and said,
in Florida there's an upset, Kirk's governor. I did not know what patronage
meant. I did not know what the word meant. I had not the vaguest idea what it
was all about. He called me and asked if I wanted to come to Tallahassee and
be on staff, and I told him no, sir, I had a job building two private businesses of
my own, and therefore I felt it best if I did not go to Tallahassee. He said, well,
what do you want? I said, well, I've given it a little thought, and there's a water
management district sitting around the corner from my office. That's not going to
be very controversial, won't take much of my time. Just put me on your water
board. [Laughter.] That's exactly what I told the governor. [I said,] it won't
interfere with my work. So he says, all right, you're on the water management
board. I replaced an old-timer that had been the powerhouse of the deal [the
water management board].
P: Mr. Alfred McKethan.
M: And that was not a pleasant situation.
P: Why not?
M: Because he wouldn't give it up.
P: He's the one who's responsible for getting water management in Brooksville,
M: That's correct, but we'll get to that point later. I went on the board, and after a
few months was elected chairman. He [McKethan] gave me the opportunity to
pick the board members as their time came up. So I had a board that I hand-
P: Although he technically appointed them?
M: He appointed them. He did whatever I asked him to do. So I had a wonderful
board, a board of loyalty and a board of hard-working people. It was a very
interesting political situation. I was accused by many and this is kind of getting
ahead of the game of totally dominating it [and with] nobody else having any
say-so. The Sunshine Law didn't exist then. So every move I ever made, I had
complete board support. That's how we went forward for a number of years.
P: How would you assess Claude Kirk in terms of his commitment to water
management and the environment?
M: Probably his commitment came through myself and some other water board
members of the South Florida Water Management District. I think probably that's
right. If we wanted something specific that we could explain to him, he'd do it for
P: So he was always supportive.
M: Extremely supportive.
P: I think a lot of people don't realize that Claude Kirk was environmentally
sensitive. People like [Nathaniel] Nat Reed [Governing Board Member, South
Florida Water Management District] and others helped him.
M: Nat Reed and I became very close. [Kirk] let us do what we felt like was right.
We did our best to do what was right. There were no regulations at this point.
P: Describe the situation when you took over. In this district there were basin
boards. Explain why there were basin boards, and how they operated vis-a-vis
the water management district.
M: Well, the basin boards came into being, I think, from a political standpoint,
because of local people who wanted a say-so, and the only way they could come
up with it was to have smaller, local boards. Mr. McKethan deserves full credit
for setting that up. It was all quite controversial. One of the proudest moments in
my life this is much later in the ball game [was when I signed a new contract
with Hernando County]. We had leased all the grounds from Hernando County,
and the lease came up. This was as I was getting ready to leave the board,
years later. The board members went along with me, and I signed a new
contract with Hernando County, that [stipulated] if the district was ever moved
down to Brooksville, every facility, every building, everything [would be under the]
unchanged ownership of Hernando County, and the district had to give them to
them free. So that group of people that was anxious to move to Tampa caught
themselves in a bind because they couldn't move. They'd have had to give up
millions of dollars worth of facilities. It's in black and white to this day. If the
district leaves Hernando County, Hernando County gets it all. All those buildings
would come out of the governmental complex.
P: The more buildings they build, the harder it is to leave. [Laughter.]
M: I think it's a little difficult for them to leave. I don't think that's ever been told
publicly. I signed that contract my last week there. I left the facility, that property,
to Hernando County.
P: Explain the relationship between the basin boards. Did you appoint the board
members of the basin boards?
M: No, the governor appointed them. I made recommendations.
P: How did you interact? Did you have supervision over the basin boards?
M: [I had] very little [interaction with them], and didn't want any. I wanted them to do
their thing. I wanted them to do local projects. I did not believe the district ought
to be in local drainage projects. I didn't believe the district ought to take every
little thing that came up in a given county. I wanted to see the overall picture.
P: So it is more like a subdivision that would enable them to take care of the local
M: That was the idea, yes. We moved from that from time to time, but that's the
idea. Later there was an attempt to do away with the basin boards. It was a
strong attempt by my successor on the board, and others, to do away with them.
Those taxes [tax revenues] going into the basin, they wanted it for the district. I
had to make sure it couldn't happen.
P: We'll get to ad valorem taxes later, but how was that divided up?
M: Seventy-five, twenty-five. They tried to change it.
P: Talk a little bit about the basin boards and their responsibility for construction for
M: They not a hundred percent, but a number of the basins did fund local
construction projects. If it was bigger than they could handle, they would come to
the governing board and ask for help when they did that.
P: Let me ask you a broad question. When you started this job, what did you think
the term "water management" meant?
M: Truthfully, I thought they had gotten too big and were doing too much. As time
went on, I became convinced of what projects needed to be done.
P: Did you see that water management was primarily flood control when you first
P: You did not see regulation of use or anything at this juncture?
M: That's a story that we could get into that would last a long time.
P: Explain how that evolved.
M: We didn't have the legal authority to do much of anything, if you want to know the
truth. So Jake [Varn], me, [and] others began to work on that aspect of water
management: what we could do [and] what the regulations ought to be. Again,
there were no regulations. There was no authority for regulations. And we ran,
what, [Chapter] 373 [of the Florida Water Resources Act]?
M: 373 was the first thing we got passed that gave us that power.
P: Earlier, in 1957 and 1963, there was a Swiftmud [pronunciation for the acronym
SWFWMD, Southwest Florida Water Management District] and a Swifmud
Regulatory. What's the function of Swiftmud Regulatory? There were no official
rules and regulations.
M: It's hard to say this because I guess I had as much to do with the new regs
[regulations] as anybody, but when we started to pass the state referendum, the
president of the [state] senate and myself campaigned in the state like we were
running for governor and lieutenant governor. I mean, we campaigned in every
little town and crossroads, and we passed the only referendum that Florida has
ever passed to tax itself, and created the new water management districts, the
other three districts [included]. The opposition to regulatory [control] was severe,
but we had enough votes to pass it.
P: Before that time, hadn't you worked on some sort of local rules and regulations
on your own?
M: Very little. Very little. From a political standpoint, beyond the legalities,
northwest Hillsborough County started raising the roof [voicing anger] because of
the damage that was being done. They kept getting on my back pretty good.
P: Because of drought?
M: Because of the drought and over pumping lines. St. Petersburg and Pinellas,
they were pumping the guts out of it. I can even remember a scene where a
fellow named [Frank] Neff, county commissioner from Hillsborough County, came
in front of the board, and he started raising all sorts of heck: why haven't we done
this [and] why haven't we done that. I turned to him and said, Mr. Neff,
Hillsborough County has a lot of authority on its own, what have you done to help
with this problem? He meekly said, nothing. I said, well, there's going to be
something done. That started the process as much as any one little incident
would have been involved.
P: Pinellas County had a lot of wells in Hillsborough County, and so they were
taking the water. A fairly sizable amount, right?
M: [They were] pumping it dry.
P: What did you do in response?
M: I began the regulatory process. That's when the St. Petersburg Times went
berserk. [It] lost all [of its] sensibilities. [It was] raising Cain [euphemism for "hell"]
that we were trying to shut down the growth in Pinellas County [and trying to]
move it to Pasco and Hillsborough, which is a basic lie. We had no thoughts at
that point about shutting down Pinellas County.
P: Did you begin regulating the well-drillers at this point?
M: We tried. We tried. I don't know how much success we had. Believe it or not,
as I remember, most of them cooperated. Most of the well-drillers need to be
given credit for helping [with] this because they saw they were drilling an extra
fifty feet to get water. They saw what was happening.
P: So they had to get a license and a permit?
M: [We] redeveloped that process, yes, sir.
P: Did you meter any of this water?
M: At that point, probably not. We didn't even require meters at that early stage.
Maybe we did.
P: But you understood that they were taking a huge amount of water.
M: The well-drillers, in all of their integrity, came to us [and said], the water's at so-
and-so feet, the water's at eighty feet, it's at a hundred feet. We began to get a
feel for it.
P: So they were deep into the aquifer?
M: The deepest wells, people's wells, were going dry. That was a big epiphany for
us. We we're going to do something. Saltwater intrusion began to show its ugly
face. Many of those kind of things encouraged us to proceed and to try to come
up with some answers. Believe me, the evidence and the scientific evidence was
very, very scarce. We just didn't have it. We lost many battles that we should
have won because we just didn't have it to back ourselves up. We were right,
but we couldn't make it stick.
P: What was your response to these heavy droughts?
M: We all recognized the drought, but that should have been a cutback period [of]
not digging wells and going for more. There should have been other
considerations. We were looking at one thing we've skipped over, one of the
very first things I ever got involved in: we're going to take the upper Tampa Bay
watershed and turn into a freshwater lake. I still think it would have been
probably a good idea. It's too late, though. It wasn't [a] popular [idea].
P: At this time of drought, you had no control, so you couldn't restrict water usage.
M: We had no muscle whatsoever. We were trying to develop it. [We had] public
hearings that Jake [Varn] sat in as well that lasted ten to twelve hours, a long
P: What was your general response to flooding? How did you deal with it?
M: The flooding plan was already in place when I got there. I had very little to do
with it, if any. The only thing I did with flooding was shut down some projects
because it was going to drain the countryside dry. I shut down Squirrel you
know what, to use the word "I" is very, very improper- we shut down some of the
projects that we felt were going to over-drain northwest Hillsborough and Pasco
County. Squirrel Prairie is the one that comes to mind first. Now they're talking
about putting it back in again.
P: When you started this job, what did you see as the most difficult problems that
you were going to have during your first term?
M: You mean, in the beginning of regulations? [We had problems with] developing
statutory authority- Buddy [Blain] and Jake [Varn], and me, and others- that you
were going to have to have to be successful. We could not be successful with
what we had.
P: I do understand that there was in 1969 a set of proposed groundwater rules that
were brought up. Do you recall anything about that?
M: I don't remember that specific set. I know that we, we came forth with many sets
over the years. I don't know exactly what was in 1969. I know it was not very
P: You also proposed that all the land acquired by the district ought to be fee-
M: Yes, sir. That was my ball game.
P: And that was from your insistence?
M: Yes, [it was] from my personal insistence because I felt like there was no way
that we could have a mixed ownership on a piece of property and do what had to
P: If you had to work with the county commissioner, the city commissioner, and so
on, all of these relationships are going to be pretty difficult in the beginning, are
M: Yes, sir. Some of the counties were for it, some of them hated it. [They] didn't
P: Did they understand in the beginning what you were trying to do?
M: [They] didn't have the slightest idea.
P: How did you educate them?
M: I think that the county commissioners in some counties were under so much heat
that they were desperately looking for help. [That] would be my remembrance of
it. They came to us. They said, do something, do something. We didn't have
anything. At that point, they had more authority than we did. I went off on a kick
on flood plains earlier. I said, let's have some flood plains zoning. [They said,] oh,
no, we can't do that. I said, well, then, don't complain to me. If you're not willing
to have flood plains zoning in your county. I got severely criticized because I
went and spoke at a bankers' convention, and said, you people are the
responsible ones, you ought not be loaning people money to build in the flood
plains. That set the headlines off.
P: And you said the same thing to the county commission. Why would you
encourage people to build on the flood plain?
M: That's correct.
P: Did that have any effect?
M: Not particularly. Not particularly. The next point was that they came to us and
said, we don't have anything to work with. So I guess I had as much as anyone
brought forth the aerial photography program. That was my baby. They didn't
want to do it, but I sold it to my staff [convinced them], and the staff took it and
made it happen. I've been pleased. I've been told in the last six months, it's the
most important thing that I ever did for the district, or that was ever done for the
district. [It was] the most important single thing.
P: While you were with the district, did you work with USGS [U.S. Geological
M: I worked with USGS. I worked with everybody that would work with me.
P: How did you happen to get the idea [for aerial photography]? It was very
innovative at the time. Not many people were doing that, were they?
M: No. I'm a land person [with a] semi-agriculture, a little bit of development
[background]. I saw it happening.
P: Tell me about the benefits of aerial mapping.
M: Well, every developer that I have ever run across said that mapping alone gives
them a starting point to develop their subdivisions and their malls and their
shopping centers because that map told them where it was going to be and they
had to work around it. I don't think it did [all of] what I wanted it to. It stopped
some of the development, but I do think it had a major part in modifying
P: Because it delineated all the flood plains?
M: [The aerial maps] told them where it was, and they could work around it. At the
least they did that, and the county government could use it for themselves, and
they still do.
P: Aerial mapping must have been very expensive. How did you get the money to
M: Just hammered it out of the legislature.
P: So the legislature...
M: ... ad valorem taxes, too. At that point, we had one and a half mills. That's
before we cut it to one.
P: Wasn't it a little controversial when you first started?
M: I don't think so. It was highly praised, because the developers saw it as the
greatest thing they ever had.
P: The USGS provided expert advice and...
M: ...a lot of technical help, yes.
P: They had done some of that already, hadn't they?
M: In a very poor way. Very inadequately. It's just so big and covered so much
territory, and they're trying to do so much, they never did get down to the nuts
and bolts. I have a great admiration for them, they helped me do many things.
M: This came out of Southwest's staff, most of it.
P: These would be people like Rod Cherry?
M: They loaned us Rod Cherry.
P: And Gerald "Jerry" Parker?
M: They came to us. Those are the guys who did it.
P: They were loaned to you from USGS?
M: It didn't matter what Derrill McAteer got credit for, they should have had the
credit. It was their brains working. I was just the spokesman.
P: Somebody had to get it started.
M: [I was the] spokesman and the policeman. Right. But those are the guys that
really made it work, hands down.
P: We mentioned earlier, and I'd like to get your reaction to this, after the Sunshine
Law was passed, how did that impact your leadership?
M: Not a hell of a lot. [Laughter.]
P: As almost any administrative unit in the state knows, there are ways to get
around the Sunshine Law. Nonetheless, that would be something the St.
Petersburg Times, for example, might scold you about.
M: That's right. At one stage they put a reporter on me for weeks, following me
everywhere I went.
P: They did demand admission to some meetings, did they not?
M: Yes, there were one or two I tried to keep them out of.
P: Were you successful?
M: If the timing was right, but basically no. Although, basically, we didn't have
anything to hide. We were going to do it the way we thought best regardless.
There were some meetings where things were so up in the air that we couldn't
bring a focus to them, that we needed to have the press out of there, because
the press has an uncanny ability to misinterpret and print the wrong thing. They
don't know what they're talking about. Two-thirds of the time they didn't know
what they were talking about. Today there are some better reporters.
P: At that time they didn't have any knowledge, did they, of water management?
M: They were shooting off their mouths on things that they didn't know what they
were talking about. I mean, they'd pick it up editorially. There are editorials in
there that would blow your mind with garbage. They didn't know what they were
talking about and they kept on making statements that were totally false. St.
Pete[rsburg] Times was the worst. I've got to give the Tampa Tribune its due. It
listened. It came and asked. If they didn't agree with it, they said so, but if they
did agree with it, they weren't afraid to say so. So I had great confidence in what
the Tribune was starting to do, being right.
P: Did you spend any time trying to go to the St. Pete[rsburg] Times editorial board
and talk to them and discuss these issues?
M: Yes, sir, and it was just like talking to an Eskimo in India. They didn't know what
the heck I was talking about any more than the man in the moon. No. The two
men that were in charge then, I will not name them, or were pretending they were
in charge there, had one thing in mind, and that was to get Derrill McAteer, and
get him out of that office some way, and put people to follow me on the streets to
try to get me in something I would do illegally that they could get me indicted for.
P: This is Mr. Poynter?
M: No, this was after Nelson was gone. This was...
P: ...Eugene Patterson?
M: Patterson and Pittman, yes.
P: Bob Pittman.
M: The truth didn't mean more to those gentlemen than a man in the moon. It was
"Pinellas County gets it all."
P: [There] was some conflict legally between Pinellas and Hillsborough. These
were the first water wars.
M: That was, I guess, the kickoff of the water wars.
P: One of the things that comes in 1967 is the development of the Florida Air and
Water Pollution Control Act, which set up the Department of Pollution Control.
How did that impact you?
M: Not much. I don't like to say "I." I we did not want to take on any part of the
regulatory [aspects]. We had our hands full already. We had our hands full just
trying to get the water war under control, or keep it under control. There were
times and places throughout the twelve and a half years I was there that we did
help them. And we helped them in a lot of ways. They didn't have the financing
to do certain things, we built that building for them down in Hillsborough County.
[It] was their first office, down on 301. I made a deal with Jay Landers, who at
that time was the Secretary [of State Department of Environmental Regulation],
that we would build the building and we would use half and he could lease the
other half. That's what happened, and that building is still there.
P: That was a pragmatic approach to the problem, wasn't it?
M: It was a pragmatic approach, I thought, to help them, put us in communication
with them, but not interlock our responsibilities. They tried to [interlock our
responsibilities] on numerous occasions, basically because they were short on
money, and we had had the raw taxing power. They wanted us to take over
more and more of that greater authority.
P: City and county governments always seem to want the water management
district to do things they don't want to pay for.
M: That's right. And we did help them, certainly, but we had a full plate. Our plate
was full and overflowing. We just didn't have room or time or strength or energy
to take over that. And I hope that is the right way to say it.
P: Talk about conservation in the1970s. Lyman Rogers, for example.
M: Lyman's the one who basically got me cranked up in water management. The
point that you make there is that we got the governor's office behind us through
Lyman Rogers and Nat Reed. We had full support there to do what we were
doing. They wanted us to do more than we could do.
P: Were you purchasing any wetlands at that point?
M: Well, that starts another whole phase of this thing. When we first started buying
land, WRDA [pronounced "worda," Water Resources Development Act] was, I
guess, the fund. We got that passed. We got that money. The first major tract
that was bought [was bought by] myself and another gentleman, sitting under an
oak tree eating a barbeque sandwich. Part of the Cumber Land Company, we
set up. Mr. McKethan had bought some too, giving him all the credit there. He
had started that project, but only in a very small way. Cumber and I sat down
under a tree, eating that barbeque, and I bought the last of it for $103,000.
That's the heart of the district; it's the heart of the deal. [It was] just one of those
things that happens. I don't know that I had any great pre-plan to do so. [I] didn't
know whether I was going to get the money, [and] didn't know they would give
me the money to do it with, but I did it.
P: When you would do something like that, you'd have to have lawyers, wouldn't
M: Not that day.
P: Not that day. [Laughter.] It was just a handshake.
M: Not that day.
P: But later on you would have to have hydrology and...
M: Yes. And we worked together very closely. No, not on that day. On that day it
was two people involved.
The Four Rivers Basin, in the very beginning, at my time, was the heart of
the district's activity. It was the thing, I mean, enormous trips to Washington
[D.C.] to beg for money, and pretty much the success, we would get it to buy the
Four Rivers Basin, probably, to build the Tampa Bypass Canal.
P: This was, then, a flood-control district.
M: Oh, absolutely one-hundred percent. Up until now, it changed in the middle of
that. I saw the canal itself as a great water storage basin, so I went back to
Washington and got the money to build a dam at Buffalo and to really kick-off at
Harney into the Hillsborough River. It began to be a water supply project almost
by accident, but not accident. We knew what we were doing. We could get that.
The one thing I wanted the most was for that tertiary plant that was built down in
Tampa Bay [to] back-pump it over the dam at Buffalo, blend it with groundwater,
and have a fantastic 60,000,000 gallon-a-day project. It's still being talked about
twenty years later.
P: The bypass canal went pretty much along Tampa, right?
P: How long did it take you to build it? And you got most of the funding from the
M: Oh, ninety-nine percent. The other thing I remember, toward the end, we went to
Washington, and they had gotten tired of seeing our faces, and we went in and a
congressman from Mississippi was the chairman of the committee.
P: Sonny Montgomery?
M: No, no. I can't [think of his name right now], I'll think of it in a minute. We went
before the committee and I went up to testify. I knew from his attitude that this
was going to be a rough, rough morning. So about halfway through the thing, I
said, Mr. Chairman, if you'll just give me $56 million, we'll finish the bypass canal,
because right now it is worthless. It isn't doing anything for anybody, and we've
spent x amount of money, probably $100 million. We spent that money for
nothing. If you'll just give me that money, I'll never appear before this committee
again. He says, is that a promise? I said, Mr. Chairman, that's a promise. The
chairman said, give the man his $56 million, and I've never been back. I never
P: You figured out how to play him a little bit.
M: Well, that wasn't the point, I just could read that he was...
P: He wasn't going to give it to you. So that was the very last part of this flood
control project, when you finished the Tampa Bypass. While we're on the topic
of the federal government, what was your reaction to the Cross-Florida Barge
M: I was much opposed to it, not for the reasons that they, the environmentalists,
laid out. It was just a boondoggle. But to say that it cut off the flow of water from
north Florida to south Florida, that's a bunch of poppycock. It didn't do it. It
didn't have anything to do with Florida water. It was a political issue. It was a
business issue. The steamship companies didn't want it. All it did was disfigure
P: Who did want it?
M: The business interests of the west coast of Florida thought it would be a great
boon to them. They could go, unload it, lay it across, have a short haul wherever
they went. That's one facet of it. [There are] probably many more [reasons] I
don't know or understand. I testified against it before I was __ I thought it
was wrong, it was a mistake.
P: It took funds from other projects.
M: At that point I wasn't smart enough to know it was going to affect us money-wise.
P: But it did, didn't it?
M: I think it did until we got it stopped, yes. But it was just a boondoggle. So few
people would have benefitted from it, was the main thing.
P: In 1971 you were reappointed by Governor Reubin Askew [1971-1979]. What
was your relationship with him, and how was his commitment to water
M: I can only tell it as it was told to me. This is a bad story. I don't know if it should
be on the record
P: Go ahead.
M: I thought that Reubin wanted the monkey off his back. He didn't want to be part
of that war. If he had brought in somebody new, he would have brought himself
into the middle of it. Reubin and I got to know each other pretty well after that.
He was giving a speech to the presidents of all the electric companies, the
officials of electric companies in Florida, that's how I found out about it. I didn't
know I had been reappointed. He said, I've got a very controversial appointment
I'm going to make today. He said, this water management business is getting
pretty rough. He says, I'm going to reappoint a Republican. I'm going to leave
him in there to sweat it out. He appointed me [for] the second time.
P: I know Reubin Askew. He wouldn't have appointed you if he didn't think you
could do the job.
M: We talked about it later and he appointed me again.
P: Was he supportive?
M: Reubin was supportive as best Reubin knew how to be at the time. He really,
yes, was very supportive. To take on a very controversial Republican and with
all that publicity he had to be supportive. He couldn't let us fail.
P: Did he allow you to have the same authority that Gov. Kirk did?
M: Pretty much. He appointed us. The secretaries he put in were the thing that
really made it easier. The secretaries I was closer to; they would channel what I
P: Are you talking the Department of Natural Resources?
M: Yes. He would channel a lot of what I needed, and if I could convince them, he
would do what they say. So it wasn't direct between Reubin and myself. We met
numerous times and had very light conversations, but never do I remember ever
sitting down with him and totally explaining the problem. Somebody did, but it
wasn't me. I didn't have that kind of rapport.
P: By 1971, the state legislature is starting to really get involved in water
management issues. There was a joint House committee led by Jack Shreve
that conducted a study. Were you either a part of that or aware of what was
M: Oh, yes. Jack and I flew together in the Navy. I knew Jack before he ever got
into politics, [before he] ever got in government. We had known each other
through the military. But he really did not, Jack did not, and the legislature didn't
intervene very much. I can't think of anything specific that happened in the
P: At this point, they were just starting to study the issues.
M: And they knew so little.
M: And they did cause trouble from time to time by really not understanding what
they were into.
P: Also in 1971, one of the reason's I mentioned Askew was that he held the
Governor's Conference on the Everglades in Miami Beach, and I know John
DeGrove and Art Marshall were there. Did you participate in it?
M: I attended it but did not participate. That was out of our district. I really didn't
have any reason [to attend] I was there because I was asked to be there. I don't
think I ever opened my mouth because I had been strong on the record against
something that was none of my business and that was the Kissimmee Canal. I
had been extremely strong against that. I thought it was foolishness. They were
trimming it down to serve the purpose, and we did something up here to serve
the purpose. We took the Ocklawaha River, we channeled the heck out of it, and
we did it like this.
P: So it was closer to its natural course?
M: [Yes, ] its natural course. We took the dirt. If you got an airplane and went and
looked, the dirt was several hundred yards away, you wouldn't see it. So the
Ocklawaha got channeled just like the Kissimmee, but nobody to this day has
ever criticized it.
P: But now they've had to redo the Kissimmee. That was a mistake.
M: That's what they wanted to do with the Ocklawaha and I said, there's no way
you're going to do that.
P: That was the Army Corps of Engineers?
M: We would have fought them, tooth and toenail.
P: How'd you get along with the Corps of Engineers overall?
M: You have different pictures of the Corps, and you have different colonels. You
have different people being their spokesman. I basically didn't have any problem
with them at all. I got along with the Corps fine. There was once or twice where
we bounced heads.
P: There are bound to be some disagreements.
M: But as far as overall, they pretty much went with us.
P: The Corps would say on the Kissimmee, that's what our orders were. We were
told that's what we had to do and that's what we did.
M: I have no feel for how high that went. I had no participation in that, other than
publicly opposing it and being chewed out pretty good for opposing it. It
shouldn't have been there.
P: Let's go to 1972 and talk about the Water Resources Act of 1972.
M: That was a biggie.
P: Most particularly, let's talk about Chapter 380, which sets up areas of critical
concern. Who determines that, and then, once they are identified, as, say,
Green Swamp, what is the response of Water Management to these critical
M: Well, much later, when I left the governing board and my time was finished, I got
a call from Bob Graham [Florida governor, 1979-1987], and he said, Dean [Frank
T.] Maloney, [of the University of Florida Law School, 1958-1970] [had died.] I
was on the committee. He had put me on the committee for Charlotte Harbor.
He put the dean in as chairman, but the dean died right in the middle of it. I was
on the sofa asleep one day, and my wife came in and woke me up and said,
Governor Graham is on the phone. I had no rapport with Bob Graham, none. I
don't know if he even knew my face, [or] if we had ever gotten to know each
other. He says, I've talked to a number of people, he says, I want you to be the
new chairman of the 380, Charlotte Harbor. He said, it won't take long. Well, it
took two years.
P: [Laughter.] They always say that when they're offering you the job.
M: We made dramatic changes to Charlotte Harbor. Dramatic. But I think the
process was a good stick. [We] never accomplished that after a while, but it was
a really good stick when it could. If you flew around and you messed with it, the
stick was there. We used the stick quite heavily down there.
P: So once it was declared a critical area, then the legislature was committed to...
M: In the case of Charlotte Harbor, a man that I have fantastic respect for and think
he's fantastic and I hope gets the job [as director of the Central Intelligence
Agency in 2004] is Porter Goss [U.S. Representative from Florida, 1989 -
present]. Porter was a great help in that particular [area]. You don't find any
three-story buildings on Boca Grand. You don't find the three-story buildings
down there. They're not down there. They never will be. With Porter's help, we
were able to get that done.
P: Who officially designates an area as an area of critical concern?
M: The government endorses it; the legislature does it.
P: Tell me about your role in getting the Green Swamp designated as a critical area.
M: There was one promise made in the Green Swamp situation that I haven't ever
really gotten over. We agreed, we, the committee, had the power to name an
area of early critical concern. All they had to do was wrap it up. There were a
number of areas within the Green Swamp that I had mixed emotions about:
grapefruit groves and orange groves, high hills. It was not what takes a
recharge and puts the water into the ground. They also ran some water off into
the wet area. I thought there was a little bit of unfairness in some of the lands
that were put into the Green Swamp, areas of critical state concern. Looking
back on it today, on its growth, I was wrong. I was wrong. We did the right thing,
not realizing we were doing the right thing by naming some of those lands.
That's where some recharge takes place. That's where some runoff goes into
the greens, into the wet areas. In later years I was privileged to sell 2000 acres
of Lykes Brothers' land into the deal to keep from development. I had complete
development permits on it, was going to 1900 homes on it, and the state came in
and said, is there any way we can block this? I said, if you can come close to
matching the money, yes. I'll see that you get it. And I did it. That's down on
P: What was the major problem with the Green Swamp?
M: Well, pulling numbers out of the sky, even today, there's a 156 million gallons of
potable water available not doing any harm. I've never said that publicly. But
Jerry Parker and his staff informed me that there was water there that could be
pumped out and sent down the river. And I thought, man, I'm never going to
come out and acknowledge that [in public]. But it still needs to be the recharge.
It's the high point. It still needs to be the high charge, and it is. I think that it is a
magnificent designation there, probably more important even than Charlotte
Harbor or anything else. So we went along with it very strongly though with
This is a very dangerous interview. Jake knows this, but I did make
unilateral decisions that the board didn't actually know of right off. I guess, if that
comes out wrong in print, it'd be awful. But, as far as the Green Swamp was
concerned, I went ahead and made it an area of critical concern on my own,
because for some strange convoluted reason, it came down to me, for McAteer
to approve it and I did.
[End side Al]
P: You're talking about Jay Landers.
M: [I was asked,] will Jay and you deliver it? I said, I think so. I'm sure I made a
couple of phone calls.
P: This is important because it was the top of your ground water supply, right?
Reubin Askew wanted it, but for a different reason?
M: I would say it was a bit political, a lot political. I also think he had been convinced
by Jay Landers and the others, and the rest of his staff, Nat Reed and all those,
that it was the right thing to do. I just unfolded to the group that it was the right
thing to do, and, strangely, it affected some lands that were owned by a company
I worked for. They got all uptight. I said, now, wait just a minute. This is what's
going to happen. You keep on growing grapefruit and oranges, but you're not
going to build houses. So they gave up. The company didn't interfere in it. All
the years I was with Lykes Brothers, not once did they ever interfere with a
decision that I made as a board member. Never.
P: Did you feel a conflict of interest on some of these issues at all?
M: Nope, because I was going to do what I thought was right. It didn't make any
difference to me.
P: They were not concerned about it either.
M: The St. Pete[rsburg] Times was concerned [laughter].
P: Let me go back to the Water Resources Act of 1972 and talk about Chapter 373,
which was Dean Maloney's water code. He had drawn up the first blueprint. Did
[the final act] pretty much follow what he had set out?
M: Very close, very close. I had met with Maloney on several occasions before he
died, only because I had been on the Water Management Board a good long
while, and so we did confer on that basis. My water management background
[attracted him], not that I knew much about this [water code].
P: This gives you the regulatory authority that you were looking for?
M: Not entirely, no. Everything wasn't in that bill we needed, by a long shot. There
were other things in that bill that they didn't give us. I don't think that the
evidence was available to anybody at that point, except the St. Pete[rsburg]
Times. They thought they had it all. The best I can remember, there were other
things we would have liked to have had in that bill, that gave us more muscle,
more police authority, more muscle.
P: You didn't get your taxing authority at this point anyway.
M: Well, yes. We got our taxing authority.
P: At the public hearings for this bill, did you go and testify?
M: Many times.
P: What was your general presentation? What were you arguing?
M: I was arguing for two things: one, for the rest of the state to be in Water
Management. So I was tending to business that wasn't my business. I didn't
want the state to have the other water management districts.
P: It would be difficult to be effective if the whole state wasn't under some Water
M: The other thing that's not noted very much, one of the deals that we made, was
to cut the millage available in southwestern [Florida from] one and a half to one
mill. The money they would have had today if they still had it one and a half [is
terrifying]. It's terrifying if they had that kind of money.
P: Part of the problem was that people didn't want to be taxed.
M: We knew that in the campaign. All right, you people in the southwest, we're
going to lower your taxes. Although they had never paid them, we had never
charged them. We never hit them for the full impact anyway. But we didn't tell
them that, we're going to lower your taxes. We did and that sold.
P: The ad valorem taxes for northwest and others were lower.
M: Much lower.
P: Do you think [the decision to accept ad valorem taxes was a mistake]?
M: One, the [Florida] Panhandle went for much less. Now they're going to regret it.
And just now they're beginning to realize what they've done to themselves.
P: Who was opposed to the Water Resources Bill?
M: Agriculture [opposed it] because they felt that they're going to lose the water. I
think that we got agriculture finally to wake up. My main theory on every speech
I gave was, gentlemen, this is your ticket, this is your license. For God's sake,
don't turn your back on it, because ultimately the cities are going to take it away
from you. Get on this path. And I think the leadership of agriculture probably
came around. I was called a traitor. I was called everything in the world.
P: It seemed to me that it would be less political if it were in the hands of the county
or city commissions.
M: Less political and with far more knowledge, [with] far more people working on the
P: You had all the experts in water management with you.
M: Logistically, I had a great staff. They fed me what I needed to be fed, and I gave
them all the credit in the world.
P: By this point, you had hired hydrologists and scientists.
M: We borrowed a bunch from USGS, for one thing. We hired two or three, that I
can remember. I would say that the USGS people were the strongest early on.
P: By 1972, how big of a staff would you have had?
M: Probably 230 to 250 by 1972. We started a lot of other things, too. You've got to
realize, all this time the Tampa Bypass Canal was going on.
P: It was still going on?
M: We were buying land for the bypass canal. We were doing that, fighting to get a
dam in there to stop it from de-watering. When they first opened the bypass
canal, it de-watered all of the area north of it. I mean, I saw springs that had
been there my whole life go bone-dry. It pumped the guts out of it. So we finally
got a dam in there and were able to hold it back. The only reason, though, that I
was able to get the money is, I convinced Congress that we were going to pump
the Tampa plant back behind the dam. I have that document. I have that very
document where we were going to conserve what would be the junction to
Tampa Bay. Some screwy lady from Pinellas County kept saying, you'll poison
everybody in Tampa if you do that.
P: Once the Water Resources Act is passed, how does that change your
responsibility and your management?
M: We went from flood control to water management. Flood control is a phase of
water management, of course, but we began to look and see, what do we have,
like the upper Hillsborough reservoir, other places that we had already planned to
acquire for flood control purposes, now could become municipal water supply
purposes, which I melded them together. That's what really happened at that
P: The emphasis would now be on regulatory as opposed to flood control?
M: We tried to keep it balanced. But surely our energies were all fast moving into
the water supply business rather than flood control.
P: Explain what you mean by "water supply."
M: Well, because, at the beginning of the_ northwest Hillsborough was being
pumped dry. Pinellas [County] was wanting more water. Something had to
happen. Something had to give.
P: So, for example, you would do Withlacoochee River flood retention? You were
still working on those kinds of projects?
M: Sure. Some of them we eliminated because they didn't serve a dual purpose.
P: Did you draw up a model flood plain ordinance?
M: We did. I don't remember whether it was really what it should have been. We did
draw it up, the flood plain ordinance, trying to stop the building in the cypress
swamps, which was being done quite heavily. So, yes, we did put a tremendous
amount of energy, a lot of energy, into that.
P: Let me get back to 1972. How are you doing in these water wars? As I
understand it, they were still pumping quite a bit of water even by 1972 in
M: They challenged us legally on every step. Every step we took we were
challenged. They did everything they could to be exempt from any regulations.
In 1972 it was getting pretty heated. The personalities involved on the Pinellas-
St. Petersburg side would stoop to anything to try to stop us. I tell this story now
because it's absolutely funny. There had been a reporter named Lucy Morgan.
P: I know her.
M: She was going to nail my ass to the wall. [Laughter.] I have, in one of these
boxes, the story she wrote. [She wrote,] it's the most honest, open, cleanest
governmental entity in the state of Florida. That really upset them, because she
took our side of it. I'm sure [Bob] Pittman got her and she never did it again.
P: Oh, no. She won a Pulitzer Prize. She's always been an honest reporter.
M: And a very dear friend of mine.
P: Yes. I like her a lot, too.
M: Lucy was telling it like it was.
P: How did you come to grips with all of these legal challenges? I know you used
Jake Varn for a while.
M: Jake, Byron Geddings, Buddy Blain. Most of it fell on Buddy's head because
Varn left in 1973 and went to Tallahassee.
P: During the time you were getting started, did you get any help or support or
advice from South Florida Water Management?
M: [Muffled laughter.] My first time on the board, I went down and sat through a
couple of their board meetings. Let's just say, the things they did, we would not
P: I think you said one time that they wasted a lot of money.
M: That probably occurred. I had a lot of connections there, even though I had no
authority whatsoever. I did have a lot of political connections down there, who I
was talking to. My own company had 400,000 acres down there in the middle of
it, that very district.
P: They would have been much larger than you were.
M: Oh, yes, they were three times bigger than we were. They did some wonderful
things, too. But the kind of things that they would do were the old way. We were
trying to go to a new way. So there was not a whole lot of compatibility in our
positions in Tallahassee and elsewhere. They got very foolish at me, very mad
at me on one issue, when they tried to go around Jay Landers and close
something. I blew the whistle on them because it was wrong, very wrong. It took
a while to patch that up, but we were basically friends. We're still friends.
P: Was there, between South Florida and Swiftmud [Southwest Florida Water
Management District], any sense of competition for funding?
M: No, I think we walked our own path. I think probably there were limitations that
the legislature wasn't going to override in total dollars, but we pretty well got what
P: When the newer districts came in, let's just say, St. John's, since you had been
around and been established a little earlier, did you try to give them some help
M: Only when they asked, and they asked. I knew some of the board members, and
they were gracious enough to ask us what we thought. I don't know that they did
what we said, but certainly we communicated.
P: There was some sense of cooperation between the five districts.
M: Yes, very much so. Each wanted to go its own way now. We had the
experience to do things that they didn't have the experience to do.
P: For example, first of all, with aerial mapping, they would come to you and ask
M: And that became the issue statewide. My proudest moment.
P: Did you work on Lake Apopka?
M: At one time, we had all the money in place to clean up Lake Apopka. The fish
camp owners and the farmers were opposed to it. The governor [Reubin Askew]
told me to get it done somehow, but I ran out of time before I left the board. The
chairman who replaced me, I don't think he had any interest. I had a lot of
personal interest in Lake Apopka.
P: As it turns out, not cleaning up that lake was a huge mistake.
M: We had the money in our hands to do it, and the governor's office called me off.
P: Was the Corps of Engineers supportive?
M: I don't remember. I'm sure they were, because they were getting to do the job.
There's so much silt on the bottom, so much slag on the bottom of Lake Apopka.
That was no little project.
P: It's a big lake.
M: It could have been done then with the money we had, which would be about ten
percent of what it's going to cost today.
P: You think they'll have to do it anyway.
M: They'll do it anyway.
P: On June 6, 1973, you presented a plaque to Jake Varn commemorating his
seven years of service to the Water Management Board. Would you comment
on his service to Water Management?
M: Let's go back further than that. When I first met Jake [Varn], he was still going to
school. [Addressing Varn:] you may not remember, but you came to me and
asked me if you could work and go to school, too, if you could do both, and I said
yes; so you worked at the district and went back to school, worked at the district
and went back to school. So, I wanted Jake at the district. We had established a
personal rapport, I think we still have that personal rapport, much closer in my
mature years. I thought Jake was the future of water management. And you are.
You wanted to be executive director. I could not make you chairman.
He [Varn] was too young. I hurt his feelings, he got mad at me. I had a
marking on my back because of youth. That was the only reason you didn't
become executive director, was because of your age.
P: That suggests a good question. How did you get along with executive directors
like Don Fiester? How did you interact with them?
M: Dale Twachman and I could have the damnedest disagreements that you could
imagine. We'd close the door and go out that door, and when we came out of
that door, the disagreement was gone. I didn't run him off. He was smart
enough. He was as hard-headed as I was. He didn't care who the chairman
was. If he disagreed with me, he'd tell me he disagreed with me.
P: Ultimately, who had the final authority?
M: Leo Griggs and I did, but we agreed, ultimately, as was always the case.
P: Well, by law, does the chairman of the board have the final authority?
M: If the board supports him, I guess he does.
P: If the board is opposed, and the executive director's opposed, it's going to be
difficult to get anything done, obviously.
M: The chairman had the authority to fire the committee members.
P: Yes. Well, that was what we call the final authority, wasn't it? [Laughter.]
M: That didn't come out right.
P: Did you have to do [fire any board members]?
M: Nope. Never considered it.
P: How influential was the board in terms of dealing with your recommendations or
working with the executive director?
M: Well, telling it just exactly the way it was, Governor Kirk gave me the authority to
pick the board. I picked the board. So obviously I was going to pick people I
could get along with. But in the meantime, the press was saying that the board
shouldn't have been there, that we didn't need a board, Dale and me made all
the decisions. That was pure baloney. We wouldn't have a Sunshine Law. We
had board meetings before meetings. Board meetings were done when we got
to board meetings. That's the way it was then.
P: How many were on the board when you started?
P: When you appointed them, was there a diverse group of appointees? Did you
have businessmen and lawyers and farmers?
M: We had two farmers, that I can think of. I had seventy-eight board members
while I was chairman. During that period of time there was seventy-eight people
served on the board.
P: Any women?
M: Yes, we had one woman. Helen Thompson, from St. Pete[rsburg]. A lovely
lady. A lovely lady. But she was very prejudiced. She wouldn't listen to reason;
she couldn't see the truth. She couldn't see the forest for the trees.
P: Well, if you got board members like that...
M: That was later.
P: How would you deal with a board member that consistently opposed you?
M: Well, she didn't consistently oppose. She opposed me on anything to do with
Pinellas County and St. Pete[rsburg], and the __ But on most issues, Helen
would follow the lead.
P: Could you get rid of a board member, once you'd appointed them?
M: You came up for reappointment.
P: But not until that time.
M: Not until reappointment. Not until the right governor was in place.
P: This [the board appointment] was for three years?
M: Three years. The first three years. The second time, Kirk appointed him [who?]
again, it was just before he went out of office. I was able to restock the board.
But I want to make something very, real, real clear: those board members were
people strong enough, close enough. They would call me up and say, Derrill,
you're wrong. You're pushing this too far. You're not doing this the way the
board thinks it ought to be done. Take another look at it. That happened
hundreds of times. People, that are still living and some who aren't, would call
up and say, what the heck are you thinking about going that route? It was
wonderful. It saved me. That's what I needed.
P: One of the things that's always interested me is, why would anybody serve on
this board? There's no pay, it's a huge amount of work.
M: That's the darndest question you'll ever ask. Most of the board loved Florida,
literally loved the state of Florida. My only reason was, I did want to leave an
impact. I did want to leave something, a legacy that would be respected, and I
think most of them did too. There were a few that took the job because they
thought they'd get something out of it financially and politically. I won't name
them. But there were only two that I can remember in particular. They tried to
use it to their own personal advantage.
P: What if they were a farmer who would have issues that would come before the
board? Would they recuse themselves if, let's say, their land was involved?
M: I can't remember anybody that had to recuse themself. Bud was the only one
that was ever __ No. Never happened. Never happened.
P: When they came on the board, they had to learn about [water management
since] most people were not knowledgeable.
M: That was the biggest problem, yes. The biggest problem is that people had to
learn. I had to learn. I knew more, maybe, than some had, because I had been
in agriculture, and I had been in business. I'd been on both sides of the aisle. I
spent more time at it than anybody else. I spent more time than all the rest of the
board put together, for two reasons. I loved it, I was close by, and after Dale left
the new executive director and I didn't get along quite as well as me and Dale.
P: Is this Don Fiester?
M: But in later years, I have to say, Don paid me one of the nicest comments I was
ever paid in my life. We were in a meeting, and they were talking about the
district management, and Don said, look, he said, if every water management
district had had a Derrill McAteer, things would be different in Florida today. That
damn near brought tears to my eyes. Take that out of there.
P: No, no, that ought to be in there. That's important. That's part of your
M: Don Fiester did that. It shocked me, because I overrode him a few times
P: What was the actual process? Let's just say, you favored cleaning up Lake
Apopka. You would take that first to the executive director and then to the board,
or would you? You'd have a formal request on paper and then discuss it? How
did you go about making these decisions?
M: I think there was a group of environmentalists that probably brought it to the staff.
It did not originate with me, although I knew about it and had personal contact
with the situation. I think probably that it came from the environmental world
through staff to me, and I was sold that the project should be done, but then a
fish farmer had a good
P: But then you took it to the board, right?
M: Yes, and we got approval to try it. If I had more time, I think we'd have gotten it
P: So you did some work on Lake Apopka.
M: Well, Lake Apopka was initially, before my time, included in the work in the Four
Rivers Basin, and cleaning it up was part of that. It was a chain of lakes, too.
That's another point there. It was a chain of lakes involved in that, so it wasn't
just Apopka that was going to be effected. We were going to send that stuff
down the stream. Those people were fighting us all the way down the channel
lakes. I was able to get the money, but the thing is, it was a basic problem with
the Four Rivers Basin. It was not something that came out, because I was saying
it came out of the blue. It did not come out of the blue; it was already in there. I
inherited that project.
P: Part of the problem was that people were pumping raw sewage into the lake, so
now are you getting into water quality?
M: We hadn't at that point. Water quality strictly belonged to Tallahassee. We just
didn't feel like we could handle those projects. We were so snowed under. It's
hard to explain the public hearings that we went through on this regulatory thing.
I can remember many twelve-hour, and thirteen-, fourteen-hour public hearings,
totally being exhausted and having to chair a fourteen-hour meeting nonstop.
Jay Landers came to me and begged me, because he didn't have the money he
needed. He begged me. He said, Derrill, you've just got to do that. You've got
to take over some of this [water] quality business.
P: Who was doing that? Pollution control, DNR [Department of Natural
M: Yes. Whatever their name happened to be at the time.
P: Yes. DNR, DER [Department of Environmental Regulation]. It changes.
M: Nat Reed wanted to do it. Jay Landers wanted to do it. Jake Varn wanted to do it.
P: Would it have been logical if they had expanded your responsibilities but given
you more money and more personnel? Would you not have been the best
administrative unit to deal with water quality?
M: Looking back, I guess, if we'd had that authority, we would have done it. It
wasn't anything that we wouldn't try. We would try anything if it was what we
thought was the right thing to do. Cleaning up Lake Apopka was right. But I had
to take on the Duda's, I had to take on Norris Grain, I had to take on a lot of other
P: Duda is a developer?
M: A farmer [at that time]. Now he's developing, but farming, yes. I knew these
guys well enough that I didn't want to hurt them, but I kept telling them it needs to
be done. [I told them, ] your property will be worth more money if this gets done
than it is now. They said, well, we'll have to have to shut down farming for a
P: You're talking about when citrus farming was still big?
M: Citrus was big, but these are more vegetable farmers [than citrus growers].
P: At one point, to deal with the problem with Pinellas and Hillsborough County, you
set up a volunteer regional water authority. Explain what that was.
M: Well, I don't remember it being volunteer. [laughter] I don't remember that.
M: Again, it's the crav[ing]. The crav[ing] of the public to have something done. The
governments were fighting at each other at the throat. Who proposed a regional
water authority? We proposed it.
P: This was what was called the West Coast Regional Water Authority?
M: Yes, and the decision, I can visualize it as if it happened yesterday. A Pinellas
County legislator asked me in between a break in a hearing, either the water
management district has got to take over water supply, or we've got to form a
regional water authority of some sort. I guess I staggered through the answer.
But again, the same thing bothered me. I did not think we were capable,
physically and scientifically, of taking something else like that on. Because you
knew the fight was going to be ugly. Nobody liked a fight the way I did. I loved a
good fight at the right time, but there wasn't any way that I saw that the district
could be both the regulator and the supplier. Nobody would have trusted us.
Everybody thought we were favoring somebody else.
P: If you gave too much to the sugar farmers, they'd be upset.
M: I told Betty Easley, but Betty's dead now, so I shouldn't use her name. She
came in the hall and grabbed both my hands. She says, what's it going to be?
Are you all going to take over this supply or are you going to let us have the
authority? I thought for maybe thirty, forty-five seconds, which I had already
done, and I said, Betty, go on and get your authority. Go on and form your
authority. And they did. Now, whether that was the real catalyst or not, it may
have been many catalysts that did that. At that point, without my board, without
anybody else, I said, we cannot handle both. Nobody will trust us. I'd been
accused by certain people of saying just the opposite, but it's a falsehood. I did
not want the district to be both the regulator and the supplier. My God, what
would we have been? We'd have been a monster of all monsters.
P: The West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, how did it operate and who
actually made the decisions? Did they have a separate board?
M: [They had a] separate board. One particular person, Chuck Rainey, pretty well
dictated everything. If I made a mistake there, I'll tell you the mistake I think I
made. I'll put it in writing. I should have insisted that the water management
district have a representative on the board. I've thought about that a thousand
times: why in the blazes didn't I push that point? I probably could have gotten it
done right then, where I could have taken a senior member of the staff to put on
that board with full voting power. By the time that got in my thick skull, it was too
P: How did that operate? Was it effective?
M: No. They fought like cats and dogs.
P: Too political?
M: Too political. Everybody trying to make a name for himself politically. Chuck
Rainey wanting to be able to tell which development could have what and which
one couldn't. Therefore, it didn't solve many of the problems. It was the catalyst,
it was the beginning, the first step. But today, they still don't organize [like they
ought to], and they're still not functioning like they ought to. Some of the
decisions they made I cannot believe.
P: Who appoints the board?
M: The local county commission.
P: Is that one of the advantages of water management, that they are appointed by
the governor, statewide as opposed to locally?
M: We are composed from a semi-local area. I represented the whole western coast
of Florida from my seat. I was elected chairman eleven times by the board. But
the actual representation on the board came from four counties. Each district,
probably four counties, represented it.
P: In that sense, though, if the governor appoints the board members, it's probably
less likely to be political than if the county commission appoints them.
M: Political to the point of being sinful.
P: But I'm talking about the beginning.
M: In the beginning, I had the privilege of picking them. As I began to lose that,
because counties did not like maybe the person I had put on the board, they
would say, we want somebody else. The governor would say, Derrill, do you
object? I'd say, no. Good. There's nothing I can do about it. And it was a very
strenuous [board]. Of all the boards in the state, I think during that period of time
that was the most strenuous board in the state of Florida.
P: In terms of work?
M: Because of the workload, particularly [for] those of us who took it seriously. We
had one or two that didn't take it seriously.
P: Would it be better to have board members elected?
M: No. [Laughter.] It would turn it into a house of ill repute if you do that. No. That's
the last thing you want.
P: Let me go to 1975 and the Environmental Reorganization Act, which now goes
from DNR [Department of Natural Resources] to DER [Department of
Environmental Regulation]. Is there any change there that would affect you?
M: None that I [could] see.
P: What was your relationship with DER?
M: Jay Landers was the secretary. Jay and I trusted each other. Some of the
districts, which I'm not going to name, tried to cut his throat. We ran behind his
back during that. He wanted me to carry it. And at that time, I guess I had
probably a little more authority than most of the chairmen had. So I was able to
make things happen that didn't hurt Jay. I didn't want to hurt Jay. I trusted him.
I have one of the most beautiful letters in my scrapbook [that] is a letter from Jay,
thanking me for the trust that we gave him.
P: Would you make reports to him?
M: We used to talk twice a week. He was new and in a way the whole thing was
new. We actually had a little more experience at that point than he did. But he
had responsibilities that he needed help with.
P: So to some degree he had supervisory authority over the water management
M: Technically. [Laughter.]
M: Now if this is going to show up in print and I'm not going to be happy.
P: But that's the way it is, I've heard that before.
M: It went the way I wanted it to go.
P: But they had some resources and some funding.
M: Not enough.
P: They could help you to some degree.
M: They could help. The most help they gave him was throwing more work at me.
Throwing more [work out] for us to do. And we did it.
P: That's going to evolve over a period of time, isn't it?
M: It even got to the point where I built that building in Hillsborough County, I gave
him half and I took half_. And that wasn't criticized. I don't think anybody
ever criticized that.
P: South Florida Water Management did the same thing. They had them in the
same building and they used their expertise.
M: They started in that tin building down there on the [Tampa] bypass canal.
P: Now, let me go to May of 1975. You declared a water shortage in Hillsborough
County. When you declare a drought, is there a scientific basis for making that
M: To the best of my knowledge [there is]. I was being advised by what I thought
were the best in the business, by Jerry Parker and others, who said, hey, that
area is being devastated by both pumping and drought. And the draw-downs
P: What did you do about the draw-downs?
M: We started putting the pressure on to shut back-pumping, [to] limit the pumping
that could take place. We did not have the authority at that point even to do what
should have been done.
P: Which was?
M: Shut it down. Put them on rations. Cut the pumping. We knew that should be
done. We knew that was the right thing to do, but every time we tried it, they
took us to court, and we did not have the evidence to back ourselves up. We
won some little ones, but we didn't have the evidence to back ourselves up.
P: So all you could do is advise them that it's a drought? You couldn't control, for
example, "water days" for lawns, and that sort of thing?
M: We set the example, and there was so much pressure upon the counties that the
counties took our lead and did it.
P: On your advice?
P: So, in effect, it got done.
M: It got done.
P: And that's all you cared about.
M: That's all I cared about.
P: There was another issue for you. You needed some highway bridges for the
Tampa Bypass Canal, and you requested the DOT [Department of
Transportation] to build four bridges. Eventually, you got them to do that. How
did you happen to get DOT [to act]? They get lots of requests.
M: The first three letters are P-O-L. Politics. We had a good, strong Hillsborough
delegation, and they got it done.
P: Somebody put the pressure on the DOT?
M: We went to the legislature and we went to the DOT. We can't take much credit
for that. The only bridge I can remember building that we got full credit for was
the Highway 40 bridge up in the center of the state. [William] Bill Chappell was
Speaker of the [Florida] House [of Representatives in 1961]. He was a
Democrat, and I was a Republican. But he also was my boss in the Naval
Reserve, he was my commanding officer. We built that bridge.
P: Let me go to 1976 and the constitutional amendment on ad valorem taxes. Also,
explain for those people who don't understand it, why you started out in the state
with six districts and how they were reduced to five.
M: You're talking about the Sarasota deal?
P: Yes Sarasota and Manatee [Counties], I guess, became part of Swifmud
[SWFWMD, Southwest Florida Water Management District].
M: They were in for a while, then they melded into a different [organization].
P: Explain a little bit about how this lawsuit started. A judge declared the ad
valorem taxing authority unconstitutional. Is that correct?
M: We certainly had to pass the referendum. At that time, the president of the
Senate was Phil Lewis, a great guy. Phil Lewis and I were not particularly close
in any way until this started. He and I got in airplane and we went to
Okeechobee, and we went to Indian Town, and we went to every place we could
find a landing strip and could hold a meeting. We passed it [the referendum]. In
a great part of the Southwest, we passed it, because we agreed to kill half the
millage. We killed it by point-five. That was very popular here. We carried
Hillsborough County in this district because of killing that tax.
P: It did well in the large urban areas and not so well in the rural areas?
M: That's a good analogy. But the rural areas, I think, would have defeated it had it
not been that the senator and myself were able to convince the farmers. [We said
to them,] this is your license, gentlemen. This is what you're going to live with.
This is your life and death. Get your regulation passed. Get your permit and
smile. Don't fight something when you don't know what's going to happen in the
end. And they passed it. To this day, ninety-five percent of agriculture thanks
God for those permits.
P: As I understand it, the reason the judge declared this taxing authority
unconstitutional was because Swifmud [SWFWMD, Southwest Florida Water
Management District] was no longer the same district it originally was.
M: The borders had been changed.
P: Borders had been changed. Therefore, it was unconstitutional. And in a way,
that was a very helpful decision because if that had not happened, would you
have gotten the constitutional amendment?
M: Even in the other three districts?
M: We'd have never gotten it passed. And I can't remember how the vote went in
the other three districts. It went against it in the panhandle.
P: They lost there.
M: We won in Jacksonville. And I think we won...
P: ...in South Florida and Swifmud [SWFWMD, Southwest Florida Water
Management District]. They had a majority.
M: We carried it. Swiftmud carried it.
P: I believe it was this bill that put in the licensing requirements for board members.
M: For basin board members and county board members.
P: Had that not been before?
M: No, that was there when I got there. That was already done.
P: Okay. As it should be.
M: No. I had no problem with it.
P: If you look at this change, local governments can no longer regulate consumptive
use of water, is that right?
M: No, I don't think that's right. That's not right.
P: Explain a little bit. You were in favor of that.
M: Thinking back, even though they had the authority in their counties, the counties
wouldn't use it. They were elected and they were scared of it. They wanted to
come to us, who were the appointed board, and let us do the dirty work for them.
We eventually did assume it. We did their dirty work. They cried foul over not
having the regulations, and all the time they were crying foul they were smiling.
That's what that was. It comes back to me now.
P: If you let Pasco County, Hernando County, and all these counties do their own
consumptive control, you would have had...
M: It would have been totally out of control.
P: You would have had no unified system of water control. One thing that came up
that was interesting to me, in Pasco County, you mentioned that in some of the
wells there was a high chloride content. What caused that and what would you
do about it?
M: We had saltwater moving in everywhere. As you weaken the head by pumping,
a lot of the saltwater replaced it.
P: What was your solution to that?
M: There wasn't any solution except to stop the pumping of the fresh water in those
areas that were encouraging saltwater to come in. We knew it was going to
happen. It's happening today.
P: Was it a serious problem?
M: It was a serious problem. In my mind, I've not seen that totally corrected as yet.
We're still pumping too close to do it. So we force them to move inland. I can
give you a good example of it. The power plants wanted to use fresh water.
They were smiling behind our backs, too, because we wouldn't let them. I
refused to see it. We had a ding-dong of a battle about whether it was going to
be freshwater or saltwater at the power plants, and we wanted saltwater. I think
all of them that have been built since are on saltwater, that I can think of. We just
couldn't afford it. It would have sucked the saltwater right on in the state. It
would have done the same thing to the state that Pinellas County did to their
P: Would desalinization plants work?
M: I am not one who is in favor of desal[inization] plants because I think there is
other ways to do it. One night, back in the worst of all this, Senator Lawton
Chiles [U.S. Senator, 1971-1989] and myself, and one or two staff members met
in the Jacksonville Airport secretly at 2:30 in the morning with four of the
phosphate presidents. Each one of those four phosphate companies offered to
give us the pits that they had to let us divert the Oliphant and the Peace River
into those pits during the flood stage. It would have taken care of the problem.
But that was too simple. There wasn't enough money to be made that way. That
is my opinion.
[End Side A2]
P: Did you ever have much interaction with the Game and Freshwater Commission?
M: Yes, quite a bit. I'm a hunter and a fisher. There were areas that I felt like that
were too close to residential areas, too close to private ownerships, and too
many functions going in there for gunfire to be taking place. We also had a
problem with the Game Commission not protecting the land. They'd go in and
you would find mounds, wooden mounds everywhere from where they were
looking for arrowheads, spearheads. They didn't have any control over it. They
had more land than they could manage. Looking back at it, it doesn't seem to
matter one way or another. They seem to have gotten control on what they
wanted. I think there's a different management at that that division now. I can't
think of anything other than trying to protect it from the vilification that was taking
place over these lands, and them also thinking that once we let them use it, they
had control over it and could tell us what to do. That's the big one. I was not
going to have the Game Commission telling Southwest Florida Water
Management District what it could do and what it couldn't. I stood up to it, and I
made it stick.
P: But in a dispute like that, who would have actually decided?
M: We owned the land. So we decided it. We gave them something. We gave
them some that they rightly deserved. We held back others.
P: Of course, they had some political clout too.
M: Oh, tell me. They had plenty of political clout. If we made our clout in the right
frame of mind, and we made that clout for the right reasons, we were able to win
most of the time.
P: Another issue comes up in terms of water consumption. Were you in favor of
M: I think we had to do metering of the very large, large users, to find out just how
much a month they really were. I think metering is showing a little bit of a fearful
thing. It's showing we weren't using as much water as we were permitting. Not
as much water was going out as we had permitted. I think that got worse after I
left. I tried to keep a board that was balanced between urban and rural. I think
as the urban areas got more and more control [over water distribution],
development became more important than conservation. I think that's something
Florida's faced with today. There's got to be a balance in this state, or we're
going to ruin it. We haven't ruined it yet, but we're getting closer.
P: Should you charge big users like phosphate more for their water?
M: You're getting into something that was the most controversial issue of my time,
and that's the water crop. I'm sure you've heard that term, the water crop. I think
you've got to be more tolerant of people that own large, large tracts of land and
how tight you regulate them. On the other side of that coin, there has been a
tremendous resistance by the urban areas to going to rural landowners, large
landowners, and making a deal to buy water. Rent water. Lease water. To me it
makes no sense for some of the ranchers who are friends of mine, with 30,000
and 40,000 and 50,000 acre tracts, they're still not allowed to sell their water to
urban areas. Now the pitiful part about this, Pinellas County is the one that
fought that so hard, and yet they were doing it behind the scenes, they were lying
the whole time. They were lying. They were not telling the truth about what they
were doing. They were paying people for water.
P: If farmers can sell water, aren't they being...
M: They can afford to farm more.
P: Either that, or they're getting too much water permitted to them, right?
M: That can be regulated.
P: So that's the answer, is to go back...
M: If I'm a farmer with a 20,000-acre pea-patch, and I need x-hundred gallons of
water, but all around me is water I'm never going to use and don't need, that
water ought to be made available to the public. The cities ought to be able to
access that water. By spreading out the pumping, spreading out the taking of the
water, Florida could last for another hundred years.
P: Why doesn't the water management district support that?
M: I can't answer that, but I can tell you why the cities can't support it. It would
make it too cheap. They couldn't charge what they're charging for it. Pinellas
and St. Petersburg ran their public transportation system off of water profits, they
were making so much money. That's not right.
P: We were talking about today that cities like Gainesville and Tallahassee make a
major profit off of utilities, not just water. Is there a better way to allocate water?
If we talk about runoff, golf courses and lawn watering, tertiary treatment, and
you can use that impure water to water lawns. Are you going more in that
M: It will only take one more step for the 70 million gallons that the Tampa plant is
producing, one more step of tertiary treatment to make it potable: mixing it with
the bypass canal and mixing it in different places. It is that monster, that big one
down there that's filled full of water. To me that's ludicrous.
P: The new reservoir?
M: Yes. That's ridiculous. Evaporation, from now on, because of its shallowness is
a negative, where you go down in a phosphate pit and put it down sixty, seventy,
eighty feet, and you wouldn't have the evaporation ratio that you're getting now
off the ponds they're building, the big reservoirs they're building. Florida is not a
place to be building reservoirs.
P: Because of the high evaporation rate.
M: High evaporation rate.
P: What is the answer, in terms of your experience, for regulating water use?
What's the best way to go at this point?
M: That's the sixty-four dollar question. The thing I just said is the biggest single
item. We've got so many people sitting back, waiting for the time when we run
out, we're desperate, then they can sell theirs for an extremely high profit. I think
that we ought to be pulling off of these big land owners now, the Ben Hill-Griffins,
the Lykes, and all these other people with hundreds of thousands of acres. We
ought to be pulling water out of those now, and a very limited amount that doesn't
affect their operation, but does allow the public to get what it without doing a lot
P: When you say "we," do you mean water management districts?
M: The water management district ought to be able to say, Pinellas County, go over
here and look at this area.
P: You can buy that water.
M: You can buy that water. Oh, no, buying water. It's our water, we don't have to
buy it, it's ours anyways. It's free. That may be true. But the land that it's going
through to get down there is not free, and it's not their's, and it should not be
their's to take as they see fit.
P: How would you transport the water?
M: Have you seen the California water system?
M: I've toured the entire California-Colorado River system. It isn't hard to do. You
could lay a lot of pipe for what that reservoir down there is costing, believe me. A
lot of pipe.
P: What about the idea that Jeb Bush [Florida Governor, 1999-] is talking about, to
take the water from so-called rural north Florida and bring it down to Tampa and
M: I'm on record as being violently opposed to it.
M: Those people have a right to see their future intact as the people do down here.
We've been transferring the rights to the use of land when we do that. That isn't
fair. Why should we go up there to Okaloosa County and some of the northern
counties, Madison, and take their water and pump it down here at enormous
P: It affects the water table. There's a good reason why they divided the water
M: That's right. They're taking it out of one table and putting it in another, out of one
region and into another. I just think it's wrong. If I want to sell mine, that's fine.
P: [It would be OK for] private owners [to sell].
M: If they want to sell it, fine. If they know what they're giving up. If they know what
they're doing, and they stay within the water crop so that the number of acres
they have recharges the amount of water they're taking out, fine.
P: Water management would have to regulate the private sales.
M: Yes, it would.
P: But you're not opposed to it.
M: Not if that landowner wants to do business.
P: Because it's his land.
M: It's his land. I pay my taxes. I got the city of Brooksfield wanting to take water off
of this place right here. You're sitting in the middle of 600 acres that's mine. I'm
not going to let them take water off of it. But they want to. They say they're
going to sue me, I said, I'll win.
P: If it's an underwater aquifer, isn't there some legal argument that it belongs to the
state as opposed to the individual landowner.
M: There's an old, old story about a covey of quail. Killing quail is highly regulated.
If I'm on my land, and my bird-dog flushes out a covey of quail and I shoot them
within the limits of the law, the twelve birds I'm allowed, I haven't done any
wrong. But that same twelve birds, when they fly over the next guy's land, now
they're his. They're his to use. He wants to shoot them, that's his privilege. It's
the same thing with Florida. If it's under me, I should have a say-so. If I want to
sell it, I should be able to sell it. And the next guy, the same thing, as long as the
water crop of that land, and he is not going to hurt me.
P: In 1980, you chose not to take your appointment for another term as chairman.
M: That's not true.
P: Okay. Explain to me what happened.
M: I was relieved by Governor [Bob] Graham [1979-1987] because he wanted his
cousin to have the job, and I had been in it long enough, which is probably true.
It was really time for me to go. I have been told since that if I put up a fight, I
might not be chairman anymore, but if I had put up a fight, I could have still
stayed on the board. When you get appointed four times, and you're chairman
almost twelve years, and people think you've got too much power, I saw it as not
being the same way. It would not be the same job that I had for twelve years.
Very selfishly, I loved being the boss.
P: Most people who are bosses [love power], otherwise they wouldn't be [in charge].
M: Jake [Varn] knows that. I tried to do it right, I tried to do it in the proper way. I
pretty well could get things done the way I wanted them done.
P: Were you disappointed or bitter?
M: Only disappointed and bitter at the St. Petersburg Times and the lies they told
over and over, the mis-truths, the half-truths, anything to get me out.
P: Do you think that influenced Graham's decision?
M: Yes. I think he gave in to the press, and he also had somebody he wanted in the
job. I never made a dime out of being chairman of the water board. Not one
dime did I ever make in my pocket for being chairman. I'm not sure that's true of
all chairmen before and since. But back to the Bob Graham thing, Bob made me
chairman of the Charlotte Harbor Commission, I think as a salve to let me down,
to let me get over no longer being chairman.
P: Did it?
M: I think it did. I think it took some of the sting out of it, because I wasn't washed
out of government and thrown out. But when it really hurt and I want you to
know, it really hurt Bob Martinez [Florida Governor, 1987-1991] was the
governor. His staff called me and said, Derrill, what do you want, what kind of
appointment would you like to have? So I picked one. Some reporter from the
St. Pete[rsburg] Times picked it up, and the next day, the headlines in the
editorial page of the St. Pete[rsburg] Times was, the worst water management
district chairman in history is about to get appointed again. Bob Martinez lost his
guts, he lost his intestinal fortitude, and dropped me. I've never been in politics
P: You would have taken that job?
M: Yes. I would have been chairman of the Environmental Regulatory Agency. I
saw Bob [Martinez] last night, and I can't hardly stand to talk to him. I saw him
last night at a social function. I asked him one time, I said, Bob, why? Why did
you do that? Let me tell you, that's one of the reasons you got beat [for
reelection], because I worked my ass off against you. You cut your own throat,
and you cut a lot of our's with it. Why did you do it? His answer was, I don't
know. Whether he was listening to certain people or not, whether he was
influenced by fear of the [St. Petersburg Times]. I think it was fear of the St. Pete
P: It could have been somebody like Mac Stipanovich [chief of staff to Governor
Bob Martinez] who told him [to do it].
M: You used the name. I didn't use it. [Laughter.] That was involved.
P: When you look back, do you wish that you had the opportunity to continue on as
chairman of the water management board, Swiftmud [SWFWMD, Southwest
Florida Water Management District]?
M: Today I would have the energy. I don't know that I had the energy now. Jake
will tell you, others will tell you, Lykes Brothers let me run freehand. I was
running four businesses, president of the chamber of commerce, and chairman
of Swifmud. I was burning all the candles at one time. But looking back, yes, I
believe I could have made a difference because the man who replaced me didn't
want to make a difference. He just wanted to move the district to Tampa.
P: But you took care of that.
M: I took care of that. I may have failed terribly. I could have failed because I had
tried so hard, and had not been totally successful. My ability to make things
happen may have waned. I'm not sure I could have handled that very well either.
P: It's an extraordinary responsibility, especially with four businesses to run. For
most people, just running the water management district would have been
M: And I spent fifty percent of my time on the water management district.
P: When you look back, and we've talked a little bit about this, but maybe you could
sort of sum up, in addition to the aerial mapping, what was your greatest
accomplishment during your time in water management?
M: Regulation. There was none when I got there. I think there wasn't any in the
state. I think the state of Florida is regulated today because of what I did. I'm
proud of that. I've been cursed for it, and I've been praised for it. This is the first
time I've ever said anything like that, and I think that you can come off very
wrong in what you write, but the truth of the matter is, there weren't any
regulations, and we made them happen.
P: What else, other than regulations, aerial mapping, anything else that you're
particularly proud of?
M: Some of the conservation that we made happen, some of the preservation of
Florida. Sitting in that oak tree and buying 45-, 50,000 acres of Green Swamp
for about $103 an acre. I think that's an accomplishment.
P: What is your biggest disappointment?
M: That I couldn't get it all done, that I couldn't make it all happen. I tried, I think, too
hard to make everybody happy, and that's an impossibility, an absolute
impossibility, to make everybody happy.
P: Toward the end of your term did the state legislature or DER start requiring or
asking more of the water management district?
M: They gave us more to do than we'd get done. But I never had a minute's trouble
with the legislature. Not one time do I remember ever getting crossed up with the
legislature. I had enough friends, and enough people that had a mutual trust,
that I had a great relationship. The Jim Redmonds, and [so on]. I can't think of
but one, maybe, time that I ever got crossed up with the legislature. I'm not
going to name them. But there was something happening at the water
management district one day, and I happened to walk in to the back of the room,
and the people speaking let me know who it was, they didn't know I was in the
room. The new legislator told the staff, if you don't do what I'm telling you to do,
I'm going to cut your funds in the next session of the legislature. I threw his ass
out of the building, literally and physically.
P: How would you describe your management style?
P: What would you say if you were talking about...
M: I'd say this: I listened and then did it the way I thought it was right. I could not
have done what I did without the Jake Varns, the Buddy Blains, the Jerry
Parkers, the Rod Cherries, I could go on and on. I'm just spitting out all these
names. I couldn't have gotten away with what I got away with. I couldn't have
gotten away with it without those wonderful people.
P: Would you describe your management style as somewhat authoritarian.
M: [Laughter] Once I thought that I had been properly taught, properly trained, and
this is the way it ought to be, yes. It wasn't off the top of my head. It wasn't out
of my, it wasn't pulling a six-gun.
P: One of the things that leaders are supposed to do is get things done.
M: I got a few things done.
P: It's one thing to say, we need to do it, it's another thing to get it done. So you
have to pursue [your goals].
M: I was accused of doing it myself, but I didn't do it by myself. I had wonderful
help. I had board members who would call me at night and say, Derrill, let's talk.
We need to do this, maybe. Maybe we need to lick this [problem] a little
different. Before the Sunshine Law, I violated no law. Before the Sunshine Law,
we talked about it, and I think better things came out of it. The right things came
out of it. I can remember four or five things where I was heading the wrong
direction, and board members changed my direction. Thank God. I had those
people that I trusted, and trusted me, and said, Derrill, don't do this. Don't do
that. It's going to cause you trouble.
P: Who were some of the board members that were particularly helpful to you? You
said you had seventy-eight during your career?
M: Oh, a fellow named Kirk Driver, out of Ocala. He was a tremendous individual,
and I don't know where he moved to on the west coast of the United States. I
had tremendous respect for his opinion. I stopped and rethought everything that
was done if Kirk had a point. Bob Becksley, he was a close friend of mine.
People thought he just did what I wanted. He was most likely to chew me out, of
anybody, if I was going in the wrong direction. That happened a few times.
Eddie Delard, he was on the board when I got there. He became chairman
temporarily before I did, but politically I became the chairman. Eddie Delard, I
listened to him. I respected his word tremendously. One board member that I
didn't get along with extremely well, out of Pinellas County, he's also deceased,
would come to me with good reason. That was John Anderson. He would not
butt me much in an open meeting, he did later, but in an open meeting, he would
like to have gone head-to-head. He would disagree with me strongly, but seldom
if ever did he come out in the open at a public meeting and get on me.
P: Comment on Chuck Rainey.
M: Please don't make me comment on him.
P: Okay [laughter].
M: I have nothing nice to say. The only thing he and I ever agreed on was me
P: [Laughter.] Okay. How about when your successor came? What advice did you
M: He wouldn't take any advice from me. He had a whole different motivation, and
you'll have to get that from elsewhere.
M: His motivation and mine were different, and I strongly disagreed with his
motivations. When I walked out that last day, I never went back. Now, today I
have a better rapport with the staff than he does or anybody else. The staff
listens to me. They ask me questions. I go to them if I need help with
something, all on the table. I think the world of the staff. The new chairman
spent his honeymoon in my home because his car broke down in Brooksville. He
honeymooned in my house. That's how long I've know him. His father-in-law,
who is deceased, was [one of] my [two] closest friends] on the board, a man
named Lattimore Turner, Lat Turner of Sarasota, who I have unbelievable
respect for [and] his opinions. He is one to say, let's go get a drink. Let's go
somewhere and talk this over. I had unending respect for Lat Turner and his
opinions. And he didn't have any qualms about telling Derrill [his opinions], but
not in the board meeting.
P: Sometimes that's more effective, isn't it?
M: It was much more effective because I'd have blown up. With my personality, I'd
have blown up in a board meeting. [Laughter.] Probably. But in private, I listened
P: When you look back, did you do a good job hiring people who were working in
M: Ninety-nine percent was excellent. We made a few mistakes, but you're going to
on those. We were up to probably 350, 400 [staff members] by then.
P: Did the executive director do the hiring?
M: He did the hiring. I didn't do that, but I held him responsible. If it didn't work out,
he was held responsible.
P: Would you request that somebody be fired, for example, to him?
M: [I] Only think I did it once. I did it once in twelve years because the person was
treating people wrong. [The person] wasn't treating people the way they should.
I'm not going to name the person or the era, I'm not going to name the
P: When you look at the early water management districts, what were their
strengths and what were their weaknesses?
M: That's had a lot of comment over the years, about my first years. My first years
were spent learning. I don't think I could come up with much of anything for the
first couple years. That's why I think the system is wrong, of kicking people off
the board. Early on, I took a liking to the upper Tampa Bay, the freshwater lake. I
thought that was an instant solution to some of the problems, and they converted
the upper Tampa Bay to a freshwater lake. It was easy to do, structurally. All
they had to do was pump it out and let it clean up. Probably it would have been
more expensive than we realized because of the salt in the ground, but I still
believe it was a viable project, and we worked hard on it. It was my first project
that I worked hard on, and I failed. But I look back now and say, I wish I hadn't
failed at it. I wish we had done it.
P: What were the structural or administrative weaknesses of these early water
M: I can't speak for South Florida because it was the only other one.
P: Just yours.
M: Did you tell them about Southwest? I think I was blessed to have Dale
Twachtman and Jake Varn, even though Jake was a kid at the time. I had
[some] people [who] tried to take it out on me because I had replaced with
Malcom McKethan. The some held that against me until they got to know me. I
think those first few months were a little bit ragged. I can name two or three
people who left the district because I took over.
P: If you look at administrative authority in the beginning, did you have enough
money? You certainly didn't have enough authority in the beginning.
M: We had enough in flood control.
P: In flood control, but not regulation.
M: I had
P: Did you have enough money when these water management districts started?
M: There were projects I wanted to do, and more money would have been well-
spent then versus now. But as far as, all in all, everything was under control.
The [Tampa] Bypass Canal was stalled for lack of money. I think I made four
trips to Washington on behalf of the Four Rivers Basin for money, and I think we
were pretty successful in getting the money. We didn't get it all, but we got
P: You got some from the federal government.
M: We got money from the Feds. We had great help from [U.S.] Congressman Sam
Gibbons [of Florida, 1962-1996]. We had great help from other people not
connected with Sam who quietly were helping us.
P: Should there be term limits for board members?
M: No, only for poor performance. What I don't agree with is not taking part and not
doing their job. I take great umbrage at that. If you can't do the job, you
shouldn't be there. There were some on the board who really were nice guys,
but they had no real interest. They took it because they thought it was a political
plum that made them look good. There were not many of those, but there were a
few. I'm not going to name them.
P: Should there be financial disclosure for members of the board?
M: Wow. You just hit a home run. There should be a system where if a person's
integrity is challenged or is accused, there should be a system in the courts, in
private, to go to a committee of the governor, to go to a committee of Supreme
Court Justices, some legal device, where you bear your soul. I mean [bear] your
P: But done privately?
M: But done privately. I often met the governor. Do you know the story?
M: The legislature passed [financial disclosure], and it was onerous, they knew that
it was rotten, and I said, I'm resigning. I told [Governor] Reubin [Askew], I said,
I'm not going to do that [report my income for public scrutiny]. I said, I will bring
you all my income tax returns for the last ten years. I will bring you my books. I
will have my CPA [certified public accountant] come in and testify. I'll call in the
IRS [Internal revenue Service]. I'll do it any way you want to, Governor, but
you're not going to put in the Tampa Tribune and the St. Pete[rsburg] Times that
Derrill McAteer's worth so-and-so and got so-and-so.
At that time, a man who had been president of the University of Florida named
Marshall Criser [1984-1989], who's a very prominent attorney with the same row I
had. Marshall and I both resigned. The governor asked me, what will it take for
you to stay on? I said, I've given you the option or I'm out. He vetoed the bill, so
I got to have four more years after that.
P: It would cause some difficulty because this is a job where people volunteer to
take it, and if they had to do disclose their financial records, quite a lot of people
wouldn't want to do it.
M: A lot of people have turned down jobs and a lot of people have resigned because
of it. But don't misread this point because I do think there has to be some
accountability. I don't think it's your business, I don't think it's anybody's
business, what I have worked my guts out for and what I have made, because I
took a job.
P: But you can say that if there is a conflict of interest, the idea has merit.
M: Nobody's had the guts to do that. The legislature hasn't had the guts to do it,
and nobody else.
P: How do you think the boards have changed from the time you left? I don't know
how much time you spend these days checking over management boards.
M: This shouldn't be in print, but I spend a lot of time with the water management
board. I live here. They're my friends. They call me in on certain things that
they want to talk about. And I love it. I do. I love it. I think I have more respect
from his staff than I ever did from the public. There are people still there that
were junior people when I was there, and are now senior people, and we have an
excellent rapport. All the time [E.D.] Sonny Vegara was there. Sonny was
my communication man the first time. Sonny wrote all my letters, wrote all my
speeches. I actually got a Sunday morning TV show over this thing, over the
problems. I would cut during the week, and Sonny helped me.
P: Where was that show?
M: WFLA [News in Tampa Bay].
P: It was what, a half-hour?
M: A half-hour.
P: And you would just discuss the issues?
M: I'd take the heat and then I'd let it fly.
P: So it was like a public affairs program where people would ask you about issues?
Do you think that, let's say, the authority of the board has changed over the
period of time?
M: I think political correctness has hurt the board terribly.
P: In what sense?
M: They're scared to take a stand. That's created by the legislature.
P: Is there more diversity on the boards now?
P: African Americans, women?
M: I think there's a good deal more urbanization [interests] on the board. But I did
my dead-level best to have a balanced board of rural, business, and urban. I did
not always succeed, but I always tried to keep it balanced. A humorous thing
happened I got blistered on a Wednesday or Thursday by the St. Pete[rsburg]
Times, and on a Sunday the Inverness newspaper wrote a whole page of praise.
P: Do you think now that the authority of the water management districts is sufficient
to deal with the water problems of the state of Florida?
M: I think political correctness and political influence from the legislature and the
governor's office has weakened them. They're scared to move.
P: For example, Governor Jeb Bush has proposed this new water board. What
would your reaction be to that?
M: I have not seen his entire proposal, so I would be out of place to say that it's right
or wrong. If I understand it, it's a statewide water board, which will not work.
P: In other words, it would seem to me, from what little I know about it, that it would
preclude the water management boards from making effective decisions.
M: It would castrate the water management boards.
P: Yes. You still say that the essence of what makes this work is that it is regional?
M: Yes. No question [about it]. If they're left alone to do what's right, they can do
their job. It's the only system that's best for Florida.
P: What is your relationship, or what has been your relationship, with some of the
environmental groups such as the Audubon Society, the 1,000 Friends of
Florida? Did you have good relationships with them?
M: I can take you back in my den and show you plaque after plaque. You saw the
things they put out on me.
P: Some other people in water management I've talked to have argued that from
time to time, some of these environmentalists were too radical; that they wanted
to push the envelope too far, and that it would hurt growth and development; that
they were too interested in the snail darter than they were in the overall
environment of the state.
M: If you take it down to that point, probably yes. I've done some developing. I took
it down to develop where the six-toed mouse [lived], which we never found.
[Laughter.] Fortunately, I think they have come to realize that the gopher tortoise
doesn't need all the protection they've got. In fact most people don't destroy 'em.
More things have been destroyed, normally, because of the environmental
community than have been saved, but it is seeming to get more. I just did a
development, the last one I've done, [and] we had a lot of sand hill cranes. Well,
the sand hill cranes learn to live in people's yards; he don't care who lives where,
he likes it. So the sand hill crane should not be protected any further. Now there
have been some plants protected, but I have no feel for that. At times they've
gone too far because they were frustrated and they couldn't get anything done.
P: Do you think they're more rational and more willing to compromise now than they
M: I think they've gotten smarter, yes, I think they've gotten smarter.
P: They've gotten more influence than they had previously, would you say?
M: They've gotten more influence, but they've gotten smarter with that influence.
They're not trying to stop everything. There's a beautiful development going on
that Jake's [Varn] been involved in next door to me that I helped put together.
My goodness, I told him this weekend, I've never seen such moves to preserve
and take care of the environment. They've really done a job.
P: Something you mentioned earlier I'd like to follow up on: do you think developers
have too much influence on water management boards today?
P: Even statewide?
M: Yes, a little. It's not out of control, but I think they probably have a little bit more;
however, let me back off from that statement, this was next door to me, joins onto
my property. It's big, but between Jake and myself, and more me than Jake -
hell, there are __ requirements and things that they even mentioned yesterday
about flooding other people's land because they have tremendous capability.
And if happens what they have promised happened, we made a tremendous
impact on that development. I sat in meetings with them and the water
management administration as an independent observer, but I had a lot to say
P: So you think now that one aspect that has changed a lot is the state growth
management laws that they are going to require developers for wetlands
mitigation and that has to some degree improved?
M: Yes, to some degree.
P: Yeah, but not enough?
M: In some cases they've been ridiculous.
P: In what sense?
M: Well, they talk about you go into a piece of land and there's a little, a small
piece of sand hill scrub, and they won't let them touch it. So here in the middle of
the development you've got the sand hill scrub. Instead of let them go over here,
buy a piece of land, plant the scrub and they do it sometimes but I've seen
sometimes where developers were unfairly treated because of pressures from
P: Did you have to deal with wetlands mitigation much?
M: In my private industry, I have.
P: But not with Water Management. What's your view of that, as a statewide -
M: It hasn't been done as well as it should have been quality-wise. They've been a
little bit too loose with the quality of the demands they've made, but it's been
better than nothing.
P: Same thing for any state regulatory decisions.
M: It hasn't been done maybe as good as it should have been, but it still hasn't been
up to the quality of it.
P: One thing I wanted to ask, and I probably should have started with this question,
what makes the Florida Water Management System so unique?
M: It's the only one in the nation, and it attempts to do things on a regional basis like
it should be, because the Panhandle of Florida is not the same as the
Everglades. So our system is laid out beautifully. Now there was an attempt to
do away with basin boards, you know about that? You know what happened with
P: No, explain.
M: Florida Citrus Mutual [a private trade organization established in 1948 to
represent Florida's citrus growers] and I sued the district, strange as that might
seem, and we won. The basin boards are still intact and they wanted to do away
P: Who is they?
M: Well, a group of folks out of Tampa, and boards that fell in my time wanted all the
control in Tampa. They wanted all the money and they didn't want to have to
answer to anybody. They didn't want to have to answer to the basin board.
P: So it was more political power than anything else?
M: I thought the basin boards kept a lot off of the governing board's back. It let us
do some things we might not have been able to do had there not been basin
boards. I didn't believe the district as a whole should be doing local projects,
because that's taking money from Sarasota County and spending it in Citrus
County that's wrong. So the basin boards alleviated that and didn't let it
happen. I thought the basin boards were in place for a reason, and they should
stay in place. Those who wanted the money and wanted the power moved
elsewhere and tried to do away with it, but we blocked it.
P: Some people have described the water management system as, I think it's called
"natural systems management, in which you try to allow the flow -
M: The preservation of natural resources.
M: I think that's a good name. I don't think it's been totally successful, but it's been
pretty darn good.
P: Now I know this was not in your purview, but what is your view of the restoration
of the Everglades, and how important is that to the state of Florida?
M: I spent some time with the Everglades situation in the private industry side of
things, not in government. I think, again, like so many things during Florida's
growth period when everything was to try to make a buck, try to make a state, try
to build a state when that was done I don't think it was done maliciously, I
don't think it was done to harm anything, [but] they didn't know any better, they
didn't know what the long-term was going to be. So I don't think they should be
condemned for what they did, but if they're going to fix it, fix it. If it needs fixing
for today's Florida, fix it. This has a tremendous impact on today's Florida in that
part of the state, but as far as them doing anything evil, or anything wrong, no,
they didn't, not at all. They just simply saw an opportunity to put in farmlands on
great soil and make money for the state of Florida, for the people of Florida; they
didn't do anything wrong. But now it's a different world, and it's time to face the
P: Did you ever have any problems specifically with "Big Sugar [Business tycoons
who buy politicians and ravage the Everglades to increase their personal
M: Only from what I've just said.
P: How about phosphate?
M: Well, I fought the phosphate industry pretty hard, but I tried to do it in such a way
that they'd reuse water instead of discharge it, and we were successful at that.
P: What about all this runoff into the aquifer?
M: The phosphate industry was wasting water terribly, and through some staff
members, Barbara Boatwright and others, they pointed out to me just how bad
it was. So despite the press denying it, I went after the phosphate industry
quietly. I met with them time and time and time again. I said, you can't keep
doing this, you've got to stop; reuse has got to be your salvation. And I think
reuse has been their salvation, from what they tell me now. I'm not close enough
to it anymore, but what the people in the industry that I see occasionally who are
retired most of these guys are all retired now I'll see them at a party or
something somewhere and they'll say, you were right, you saved the phosphate
industry. Because they could not keep going like that.
P: But at the time they didn't appreciate that.
M: No, it was expensive, but they are saving money today by reusing. They thought
they could put it in the pits.
P: They wouldn't conserve anyway. Obviously, if they are using 150 million gallons
a day -
M: I remember that number, I didn't know they cut.
P: They didn't, it's reduced to ten to fifteen million, that's a huge amount of water
M: The urban press never gave us credit for it.
P: So obviously conservation is always at the top of your list, right?
M: I can remember the Herald Sarasota paper just crucifying me personally for
being in bed with the phosphate industry. Jeez, I was trying to calm them, make
it work, give them a chance. They had to have a chance, had to have an
opportunity, but they just thought it shouldn't be that. [They thought] we should
shut them down; they wanted the phosphate industry shut down. But you don't
do that too many people had too many millions involved in that thing. Which
made them do better.
P: They were pretty powerful polluters, were they not?
M: I don't remember them being so bad as polluters, maybe they were. Maybe their
used water polluted the river from time to time, they had a dam break, but dams
would break and they would pollute the river, yeah. That was wrong. They
should have been burned alive for that and it got better but at first they didn't
seem to care much, it was a way to get rid of the water.
[End side B3]
M: That was a toughie; that's one of the five things. The other was and this is
probably the most important in my twelve years there was never a scandal at
the Southwest Florida Water Management District. I just am as proud of that of
anything. I don't look over my shoulder to see if anybody's following me, and
nobody else does. Not one scandal of any kind in twelve years with 300-400
people was there a time when there was something to be ashamed of. I'm very
proud of that.
P: Another thing that you must have been concerned with is educating the public
about what Water Management does. How did you go about doing that?
M: Well, I had the TV deal. WFLA [Tampa Bay area news channel] [was] very nice
[and] they gave me about a year of TV shows during the water war. I think that
was some value, but I think that the droughts and the headaches educated
[people more because] everybody was concerned. So violent flooding and
droughts were the two things that brought the public's attention to it.
P: In other words, they didn't think about you until they had problems.
M: They didn't think about it 'til they had their own problem. What I said didn't
amount to a hill of beans until they went outside and there wasn't any water and
the lakes went dry.
P: Did you try to go to the schools and provide some materials?
M: I have hundreds of badges and plaques for going to the civic organizations; I did
it through the civic route. I never had a time when I did not have a schedule of
public appearances. One of the things that we did that I was very proud of was
Nature's Classroom; I really hadn't thought of that [until just now]. I went to see it
recently. Nature's Classroom, do you know what that is?
M: It's a thing for schoolchildren down in the Hillsborough River, Lower Hillsborough
Swamp, and it's highly used by the school system. It's called Nature's
Classroom. We put that in, put it in place, and we think an awful lot of that
P: I noticed, for example, Swiftmud has periodical radio spots describing what goes
on. Did you do any of that as well?
M: I don't think we did any of those as such. I don't think we had the PR staff they
have now. We didn't do that for two reasons that I can think of: one is, we were
still in the process of making it work; another one, all of what we were doing but
not getting it exactly the way we wanted it. Maybe it was a mistake on my part
not to do it, but I didn't know it. But every sixth grade student in Hillsborough
County has to spend time at Nature's Classroom. What better education can you
give than that? A sixth grader -
P: Sixth grade is a good time to do it.
M: He's twelve years old, and he's going to see nature in action. I went through it
the other day recently, and it is still a gorgeous piece of work. Eddie Madordin
helped me with that; Eddie Madordin was responsible for a good part of that.
He's deceased now.
P: Do you think most citizens of this state know what water management districts
M: Most citizens? No. All they know is to criticize. They really don't know.
P: So how do you change that?
M: You just keep trying. You just keep trying to do your best, do the right thing, and
provide them water when they want it to come in the faucet, and preserve their
wetlands, stop the development of the wetlands, and actually create more
wetlands. One of the biggest thing that's happening I don't get much credit for
it, [and] I don't deserve much credit for it is the land acquisition. They've taken
a lot of lands off the tax rolls, and people get uptight about it, but the land we're
taking off the tax roles are the lowest value lands from a tax standpoint.
P: You mean things like ELMS [state Environmental Land Management System]?
M: Now I'm a little bit put out with them sometimes with their upland purchases. I
don't understand the reason, and I've argued them until I'm blue in the face.
We've got a swamp here that needs to be preserved, you've got a water zone to
protect then they've got all this land out here. Why? They're buying too much
They're also catering to something that has nothing to do with water
management; they're catering to a group who wants to preserve Florida. [They]
want it to stay as it is, [which is] not all bad, not all bad by a long shot, but I'm not
sure that should be a function of the Water Management District. Why is it?
Because of the] ad valorem tax.
P: Yes, you can afford to buy it.
M: As long as we've got the money to buy it.
P: The other thing is Preservation 2000 [A 10-year program that raised $300 million
per year for a total of $3 billion and was used to purchase over 1.75 billion acres
of land in order to preserve Florida's natural heritage] and some other programs
that the legislature has given them.
M: That's fine, that's fine.
M: But it shouldn't be coming out of ad valorem taxes.
P: Right. While we're on that, the state of Florida's aparian rights. Talk a little bit
about how you issued permits, and what information did you use to issue these
M: Well that's one of the great controversies in law. What does the state own and
what does it not own? That battle's been going on for a long time and I guess it'll
go on for a much longer time. [For example, the] Fisheating Creek for the Lykes
family; the state just came in and claimed it. But where aparian rights have been
wonderful if it wasn't for that, the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas would run a
pipeline right out of Weeki Wachee Springs right on down, and that's where
they'd get their water. But the people that own the land on each side of that river,
that's their aparian right to own that land. They bought that land, they own it. For
Hernando County, and I helped put this in effect, we took and intercepted the
groundwater flow for Weeki Wachee by spreading out wells all along in the path
of the groundwater. [It] may have lowered the springs a little bit, but all in all it's
been a wonderful system, a wonderful way to get water. But aparian rights I feel
very strongly about. What's mine is mine, and that's it.
P: Now when you issue a permit, I would just assume that there are several things
you would consider. Number one, that there would be certainty of use, that
people could always count of that. Secondly, you didn't want any [water] wasted.
Is there anything else that you would consider in these permits? I would assume
that it would have to be fairly equal in terms of -
M: Not hurt your neighbor.
M: That's the biggie the one I fought the hardest and it wasn't handled right, it
wasn't handled fairly. There is some recovery taking place now, it's getting
better. I've been involved with some folks in the lawsuit over what rights does a
landowner have. When we did the thing and this is a big one, this is a biggie -
when we agreed to the regional water well field, it was with a clear understanding
that an adjacent landowner would not be denied or affected. We fought that
battle now for two years. It was clearly in the understanding, it was clearly in my
language, that that would not happen. The Water Management District is
ignoring that, I think, very, very erroneously. Wrong. The cities must not come in
and take away my rights to farm or my rights to live as they've done. If I need
that water, a bonafide need, then I should have it.
P: Well, who determines if it is a bona fide need?
M: Right now the Water Management District.
P: And they do that on the basis of -
M: They're overriding their own agreement; an agreement, in writing, that I made,
with Jake's help and others. We said, you will not deny them go ahead and
have your water supply system but you don't deny anybody else, and they're
completely turning their back on it. Their word is no good.
P: How long would these permits be issued for?
M: Seven years.
P: Then they would have to be renewed at that time?
M: Re-looked at to see how much of it they're using, [to see] did they get more
permitted than they needed?
P: And you could cut back?
M: Seven years is long enough to determine what that need is. There is a
disagreement, there are ten-year permits I have no problem with ten-year
permits but their has to be a time, because there are people holding permits for
water they don't need, never will need, [and] they're just sitting on it.
P: Some of the earlier permits, was there a limit on them by law?
M: Well, there was a limit, but it was an unreasonable limit. We made mistakes.
P: And how do you work out the equality issue of giving everybody "the water they
M: The water they need, or the water they want to need?
P: Well, that's part of the issue.
M: Well, that goes back to what we were just talking about. A landowner should not
be denied the water he needs under his land. Again comes in the dreaded word
"water crop," it can actually be brought into this argument. If I've got a 1,000
acres, and it recharges X number of gallons from the rainfall, I should be able to
use that on my land if I wanted. [But] no, it's now going to somebody else, [and]
that's wrong. If this man doesn't need it, and he wants to sell the right away, he
wants to sell an easement, he wants to sell something else, he should have a
right to do so. He should be paid for it.
P: Well, you understand eminent domain, that the state could purchase that from
the individual, but that's only -
M: If they want to pay -
P: A fair price.
M: A fair price for it. But they won't let me sell the water. Eminent domain has to be
for land, not water.
P: How did you determine what would be the minimum flow for a river? How was
that done? You would also do minimum/maximum levels for lakes as well, would
M: The minimum flow, again, is connected to the water crop to some degree some
degree, not totally but minimum flow is at least a device to say it can't be any
lower than this. [It states] it can't go any lower than this, this is the bottom.
Whatever the reason, you're using too much water, cut back 'til we get more
water. You don't lose your permit, but you will have to cut back if this thing gets
bad enough I have no problem with that. If Mother Nature creates that problem,
that's okay, minimum flow makes sense.
P: Same thing about lakes?
M: Same thing about lakes.
P: And is there a problem as these lakes get too full, and you start getting all this
extra growth there, how do you deal with that?
M: Growth of what kind?
P: Well, plants of all kind.
M: If Mother Nature does it, I've got no problem with it. I got a lake, it's got all kinds
of materials growing in it. I'm planting it in cypress trees, as a matter of fact,
because I want to make it a natural cypress head.
P: Did you ever have any dealings with Native Americans at all?
M: No. Oh, that's not quite true. This is not Water Management District, it's my
personal business. I did a development over in Lake County, and the people
trying to stop it, they brought up a busload of Seminole Indians to say this was
where their foundation was, therefore [there should be] no development. But
they overdid it, there was an overkill on the part of the development; he made a
mistake and he lost. Then we have the naturalists, the environmentalists,
brought all these Indians up here to give us testimony, and they lost. We won.
P: We talked a little bit earlier about the influence of developers. How important in
the legislature are lobbyists like Wade Hopping and people like that?
M: They're pretty influential; maybe a little too much sometimes. Partly because of
term limits a lot of the legislators don't know how to write legislation. They're
not experienced, and so on many occasions the lobbyists are writing those laws.
That is the evil of term limitations. Term limitations were a mistake. Sure you
have some bad apples you need to get rid of ,but you've got more of those with
no knowledge than in the past.
P: So how do water management districts, how do you advocate for your point of
view in the legislature.
M: We never had to have an executive director approved by the legislature.
We got no damn business, no doggone business, telling an appointed board with
the responsibility of who they can hire and who they can't. So he's now,
inadvertently, responsible to the legislature, not his board. That's poppycock.
P: Well, during a session, do you send lobbyists? Do you go and testify? Do you try
to present to the legislature your -
M: Back in my time I stayed up there, more or less in defensive mode, but also to
get what we wanted. I would not attempt to guess how much time I spent with
P: Was it effective?
M: Pretty much so. I had the friends in the right places, and they believed what we
said. I never, ever, have I ever given testimony in the legislature that I couldn't
back up. Never. And I think that was true of most of the water management;
there was one or two cases where that might not have been true.
P: So scientific evidence was critical for getting -
M: Scientific evidence, integrity, good need, not looking for money we didn't have
any real reason for, don't pass a law that's going to do this, or going to do that, or
going to do the other. I think we were pretty darn effective; I think until my time, I
don't know how it is now; I don't think it's nearly as effective now. Oh, it's not.
During my time, I don't ever remember losing.
P: You do know that there are critics of the Water Management Districts, that they
say they have too much power, too much authority, they have airplanes that they
don't need, they waste money.
M: Southwest doesn't have an airplane; I never would allow it.
P: No, but St. John's does, and South Florida does.
M: I don't care. They may override it, but I passed the rule, there will not be an
airplane owned by Southwest. A boondoggle.
P: Well, how do you deal with that criticism?
M: Of the Water Management District? I tell them to do your homework; do your
homework and really find out what it's like.
P: So do you see that over your time in Water Management, your experiences, that
Water Management utilized the funds given to it efficiently and effectively for the
state of Florida.
M: With one exception: somehow we got a bad set of tax numbers out of Lake
County and we double-taxed it, and I liked to never have lived it down. They
hung me in effigy at the courthouse.
P: How else did you urge conservation of water? Did you talk about low-flow toilets
or penalties or anything that would help conserve the use of water?
M: There were so many that I can't pinpoint one of any great importance, but there
were so many things I still, to this day, drive down the highway and see a
sprinkler running on a rainy day. Pouring down rain and the sprinkler's working
out in the yard. [They] ought to be fined $1000. [They] ought to be required to
have cut-off hours. [That] makes me mad every time I see them; [I] saw it this
weekend. [It was] raining, and the sprinkler running wide open. And there's
devices now available that would cut those sprinklers off just like that. They
ought to be mandatory. Every sprinkler system in this state ought to be
mandatory ten minutes after a rainstorm.
P: I have one that's not that expensive.
M: It's not. Cut the water off.
P: It saves you money, too. It seems to make positive sense for the homeowner.
M: And you know who's the most guilty? The government.
P: Well, I can tell you, I've seen the University of Florida watering all of their lawns
during a downpour.
M: My beloved University of Florida.
P: So what else can you do to help individuals and institutions conserve water?
M: Well, they've tried to time when you can run and when you can't. It's a very
difficult thing because you've got your rural areas that you can't control and
they're going to water when they want to; they're going to water their orange
groves when they want to. For agriculture, and I'm the traitor of all traitors, and I
don't have one. Gauges that can't be changed, gauges that can be read;
reporting, spot reporting by the water district.
P: It would take a lot of money and time to regulate this, wouldn't it?
M: It'd take a heck of a lot of time. The cost of regulation is extreme.
P: And so since that's not done, most people figure they'll never get caught.
M: They'll never get caught. I also believe that if they do this reclaiming right, there
won't be as much trouble. Since 1975, I've been calling for reclaiming.
P: Think how much water is wasted in runoff.
M: Since 1975, I've had my say, for God's sake, quit dumping it in Tampa Bay. We
built the dam at Buffalo, on the Tampa Bypass Canal, for the simple purpose of
it, and financial justification that's in those boxes, the financial justification for the
dam at Buffalo, has nothing to do with anything but pumping the Hooker's Point
back behind it. Nothing else. And the committee made the recommendation to
give me the money, put it in writing, this is for use to back-pump Tampa's waste.
And that waste is going to get greater; as Tampa gets bigger it's going to be
P: Let me give you some more criticisms of Water Management Districts, and I
would appreciate if you would sort of respond to this during the time you were
chairman. There was a fundamental disconnect between science and public
M: First, we did not have the legalese to back us up on the policies we wanted to
establish, so the public ignored us the public didn't care. That came out of the
St. Pete Times, even the Tribune, the Miami paper, the Sarasota paper. We
suffered terribly from the lack of scientific, absolute proof that this was the case.
We knew it, we knew what the case was, but we couldn't make it stick in a court
of law. And I don't know how many times that became the issue; it won't stick in
a court of law. We were right, and since then we've been proven right. Why,
there'll be no damage in Pasco County, there's plenty of water in Pasco County,
there's never any damage. Go down there and look at Big Lake. Go down there
and look at all the lakes in that area. They're all bone-dry.
P: There was a criticism of the water management boards today, that they don't pay
enough attention to scientific information.
M: I can't relate to that, because today you're talking about, and I'm not an authority
M: In my time, everything that was brought to our attention, I'll promise you, we tried
to use every single letter of it.
P: Some people think that water management districts have too much authority.
Other people think that they're not supervised enough.
M: Then they need to change the board. If that's the case they need a different
P: Should the legislature have board control?
M: The legislature should stay out of it; they need to stay out of it. The legislature's
the biggest unnecessary problem that they have. The press is going to cover
them, they're covered wide open by the press, the press knows now with the
Sunshine Law. They can't get away with the things even that we did. The needs
of the cities are well-known, the growth that's taking place in the cities and the
counties is well-known; are you going to fix those problems or not going to fix
them? Who's going to oversight them and tell them which ones to fix? It's got to
be a weight, which one's the lightest, which one's the heaviest, which one do
they need the most? It's got to be a board that's intelligent enough to pick that.
P: But the argument is that the board really doesn't answer to anybody else.
M: It answers to the public pretty darn well. And the newspaper reporters -
P: And the Sunshine Law now helps in that category.
M: It helps. It's not perfect, but it helps. What I see is wrong now is too many
things; the district's doing too much. They've gotten out here, all out here in the
school systems, where they're doing different things, and they simply will not limit
anybody. You can't answer everything, you can't answer every little detail, but
they are trying their best to be popular with everybody. In the final analysis, the
governor and the cabinet have the answer. They're the boss. Shouldn't be the
P: So the governor can remove people -
M: The governor can do anything well, can he remove a director?
P: For malfeasance. Misfeasance.
M: Oversight of the governor and the cabinet is sufficient. We don't need the
legislature and the legislative committees involving themselves in the micro-
management of Water Management Districts, which they're trying to do. They
need to stay out.
P: So any decision you make can be appealed to the governor or cabinet.
M: Oh, yeah.
P: And do they act frequently?
M: I don't know that I was ever called before the governor's cabinet in my time. I've
had governor and cabinet members call me and say, Derrill, why did you do this
or what's behind this, which they have a right to do. And I didn't object to that in
P: Did you have to write a report for anybody at the end of the year explaining what
you were doing?
M: Never. They sent auditors in.
P: Well, of course.
M: We had some tough auditors and some criticism even back in my time.
P: Don't all of the water management districts, or did they have in your time,
different regulatory [standards]?
M: Well, there wasn't any until we started them.
P: But once you got them started -
M: Sometime later they were tested. I can remember two water management
districts [saying], there'll never be any regulations in our district. Now they're the
most regulated districts available.
P: Well today would they have different rules? In other words, there's no statewide
set of regulatory rules?
M: No. Well, there are on certain things, yes. There are on an executive director
can't take his job without approval of the legislature, which I think is ludicrous. I
don't think the legislature knows enough about what's right or wrong.
P: But one of the reasons, I guess, is because each district is so different,
obviously, your problem-solving is going to be different -
M: No, I think I said early on, what happens in Bonifay, Florida doesn't work in _
Florida. It's a different world.
P: That's really an advantage as opposed to a disadvantage.
M: Very much. But you can cut the state in about five sections. You can cut the
state of Florida, and those five sections are all independently operated with
P: You mentioned that you think the water management districts are doing too much
M: They're spread too thin.
P: What should they be concentrating on?
M: Conservation, prevention of any more building in the flood plains the very
things we started with. It should be back to -
P: It hasn't changed very much, really, has it.
M: It hasn't changed a bit. They ought to be paying more attention to what we
started with, and then the regulation] for consumptive use is the other step -
that's the new one. I talk to the staff frequently, I talk to them every week almost.
They are spread so thin, and they are losing people to private industry. Another
big problem is that private industry is stealing a lot of their employees; it's hurting
them. So they're way behind in their work, way behind. It's predominantly to do
P: But if you look at the future, what are going to be the major problems? Is it still
going to be consumption?
M: Building in the flood plain.
P: That's going to be the biggest problem.
M: That and building where they shouldn't be building, and consumption [those]
are the two problems. It's happening. Managing not stopping development.
Now for God's sake, people say, Derrill, you've been trying to stop development
for twenty years. I'm a developer; I still develop land.
P: But at a certain point, there's not going to be enough water is there?
M: No, but it's got to be planned for. There's going to be enough water, there's
enough right now. I would take it all between Ben Hill Griffin, the Lykes Brothers,
and Leaf Co., the backseat corporation, and the storage and the phosphate pits
that overflow from the rivers, there's enough water to last forever. It's there. But
something's got to be done to make it fair and equitable.
P: What do you think historians fifty years from now will say about the functioning of
the water management districts in the last twenty-five years?
M: In the last twenty-five years covers my time.
M: That goes back into my time.
P: Right. How would they assess their contributions?
M: They'll say the last years of my time calendar-wise, not Derrill-wise, that they
tried to bring things in the right direction under control. I think they will say that
they began to realize that there are ways of doing it differently than how they're
doing it. Some mighty fine people tried but did not succeed; some mighty bad
people tried and succeeded in the wrong way.
P: As we're concluding the interview, is there anything you'd like to talk about, or
anybody you'd like to mention, or any events you'd like to discuss that we haven't
M: [There's] two things. I appreciate the members of the staff who were so loyal -
loyal to me personally and to the district who did their very best to set us in the
right direction. We certainly made mistakes I don't care who you are, you're
going to make mistakes but on the other hand, we didn't make many. We did
what we thought was best, and what we thought would be the best for the state
of Florida, and I am very proud of the people I worked with the boards and the
staff, the lawyers everyone that made a great contribution to my twelve years. I
know twelve years was a long time for one man to be chairman, and I know that I
was accused of having too much power and I was privileged to have a bit of
power but it came from those people. It didn't come from me, it came from the
people that were behind me, the people that helped me, that I so much
appreciated. Many of them I have never had a chance to [thank] I guess they
know, I guess I did let them know how much I appreciated it. Because I could
not have survived twelve years under the heat that certain people tried to put on
me without the loyalty of Reubin Askew. He appointed me as a Republican when
there wasn't another Republican in the state of Florida appointed to anything.
But he did. I haven't talked to Reubin in years, but I'll always thank him and have
a great respect for him that he would do that and [that] he thought enough about
what we were trying to do to do that. I'm sensitive as anybody could be to the
criticisms that were false, and I'm not going to take that any further because I've
said it enough. I am sensitive to it to the point where I really didn't want to do this
interview because I felt like it would bring up some sour spots, fortunately, it
hasn't. You've been tremendous with your interview and your style of interview.
You gave me the chance to leave it alone or take it if I wanted to, and that's a
wonderful ability and I appreciate it. I appreciate Jake Varn for the friendship
we've had for some thirty-five years in many different ball games, not just Water
Management, but many different ball games. All I can say [is that] I was a very
lucky man to come from nowhere and be handed a job with as much authority as
I had. And I had, and loved it, and tried to make it the best. That's all I have to
P: Well, on that note, we'll end the interview. Thanks very much.
[End of Interview.]