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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Tommy Clay
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: October 14, 2004
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I am in Gainesville, Florida, at the Oral History
Program. It is October 20, 2004. I'm talking with Tommy Clay. If you would,
give me a little bit of background of when you were born and your early
C: I was born July 4, 1926. My father had a potato farm in Hastings, Florida. I grew
up over there. I went to Hastings High School. I came here to the University of
Florida after service. I was in service from 1943 to 1946, discharged in 1946. I
came here to the university from 1946 to 1949, I graduated then with a bachelor
of science [degree majoring] in agriculture in June, 1949.
P: You grew up in the "potato capital of the world" [referring to city of Hasting's
C: Right. Potatoes and cattle, Florida had cattle, too.
P: Tell me about your service. Why did you decide to go in 1943 and where did you
C: I volunteered for the Army Air Corps and service as a B-29 gunner. I was
overseas for about a year.
P: Where did you train?
C: I had my basic training at Keister Field, Mississippi. I went from there to
Kingman, Arizona, from there to Las Vegas, Nevada, and then overseas from
P: Where did you serve overseas?
C: I was stationed at the end on Saipan.
P: When you were in Saipan, you would have flown over Okinawa, Iwo Jima?
C: I don't remember as much about that as I ought to, but that's about right.
P: You flew in a B-29. I've been in one of those planes. It's hard to imagine that
many people could get into that plane.
C: The remarkable thing back then it was the first pressurized big plane we had.
In fact, when we first had our training, we trained in B-24s and B-17s and you
FWM-7 Clay: Page 2
had the machine guns in your hands. In the B-29, of course, the machine gun
was away from you. You had little sights that you had the plane coming in a
circle and fired it a little bit. It was an entirely different situation. They
pressurized the bodies instead of the whole thing being open.
P: I understand the people in the B-17s almost froze to death because it was really
cold up there.
C: We'd had that, but we were pressurized.
P: How many missions did you fly?
P: On those missions, did you have much problem with planes that were trying to
C: My particular plane was never shot at.
P: You were the nose gunner?
C: [I was the] left waist gunner.
P: Talk a little bit about your sighting. You had an old bulls-eye circle that you
C: You had two little wheels, and you adjusted the circle, I guess, stars or a ring or
something. You'd make it bigger as the plane got closer. You got the plane
framed as it was coming in, too, adjusted with it. The trigger was right there on
the same circle. All we had was a bubble. There was a bubble. We sat looking
out it. We had the mechanism, I can't call it right now, that we kept on it. As the
plane came to us, we turned a little bit and made the circle larger. At the end, I
don't remember quite where you shot, it's been fifty-five years ago. That was the
way it was done. You could just barely touch that trigger. If you kept it down
long, it would burn the gun up. You just touched it.
P: Were these fifty-caliber?
P: Did you shoot down any enemy planes?
C: No, I didn't do that. I saw a [B-]29 at a museum in Cincinnati, a big Air Corps
museum. I saw a [B-]29 three or four years ago. I was able to go, well, I've been
through it. I can tell you, that's been what, fifty-six years ago, something like that.
FWM-7 Clay: Page 3
Fifty-eight years ago.
P: Fifty-eight years, that's a long time. You left the service in 1946?
C: I got out just about time enough to come over here.
P: You came to the University of Florida. What did you major in?
C: Animal husbandry.
P: Why did you decide that?
C: I had cattle, and I liked that, so I just chose that. Then, from that, I was in the
extension services. I was either an assistant or county agent in Putnam County
for thirty years. Of course, I've been out of that for a long time now.
P: When you were at the University of Florida, did you learn anything that would
help you in water management?
C: I guess I'd have to say in some of the agronomy courses. I remember having a
drainage and irrigation course under Professor Rogers. The pasture courses, of
course, had to do with conserving water, but as to outright allocating all the
things that we've got to do later on, no, I'd have to say I didn't have any training
P: How about when you were an agricultural agent? Did you have to deal with
C: Yes, we did. Over there in Hastings in the St. Johns, as you know, we have
some salt water intrusion on those wells if they pump too strongly. Of course, all
of those potato areas are drained eventually into the St. Johns River, so yes, we
had some of that to do in our county.
P: How did you, for the first time, get involved in water management?
C: You're going to get a political story now. A dear friend, whether you happen to
know him or not, Jim Williams [J. H. 'Jim' Williams, Lieutenant Governor of
Florida, 1975-1979] from Ocala...
P: Former lieutenant governor?
C: Right. Through the politics and agriculture, Jim and I were close friends. He was
our state Senator at that time. When the bill was passed in 1971, Jim sent me a
copy of the bill and said, this is something I think you would enjoy. The way he
went about it wasn't proper. I wrote Governor Askew, who happened also to be
FWM-7 Clay: Page 4
a friend. He wrote me back and said it was too early to make any appointments,
but when he did, I would receive every consideration, [he] underlined every. I got
my appointment from him as a result of Jim sending me a copy of the bill and
getting interested in it that way. That's exactly how it came about.
P: Isn't that a little unusual that you would write him for consideration?
C: When I got the copy of the bill from Jim, of course, it was very plain that the
governor made the appointments. From that, of course, that's been a long time,
too, and I still have the letter that he wrote me back that I got the appointment
that started in 1973.
P: When you started, you were appointed a member of the board, and you served
for four years, and then in 1977, you became chairman, is that right?
C: Yes, that's roughly right. I was appointed twice by Governor Askew. My terms
were such that he appointed me twice.
P: Wasn't an original term for a board member nine years?
C: No. They were four. I started 1973 to 1977, he reappointed me, I went from
1977 to 1981. That would be the way it would be.
P: Let's talk about the most important bill, I guess, of all [which] would be the Water
Resources Act of 1972, which set up the five water management districts. When
they set those up, were you involved at all in any of the planning of this? Did you
C: No. It was after that bill that was passed that Jim sent to me. You know many
times better than I do, but there were already two districts prior to their creating
the five. Southwest and South Florida were in operation back before we started.
P: Of course, South Florida was flood control. Why did that take so long to get from
just flood control to what we call a water management district?
C: The way I remember it, Southwest was in the flood control and they had such
great problems along with that muck land and all of that real valuable farm land.
They got those canals and drains and at that time, their main purpose was just
to drain the county. I guess, after they got it all drained, then they got into a little
more thoughts of water-saving. That's the way I remember it.
P: When this bill was set up, were you pleased with the way they had decided to set
up the five districts?
C: We were. Also, as you probably remember, at the beginning, St. Johns [Water
FWM-7 Clay: Page 5
Management District] did not have the entire river [under their purview]. The bill
gave us the entire river. South Florida had part of the territory. When our district
was set up, they had to give us two or three counties that they did not like. We
got some from Southwest Florida, also, in getting our St. Johns divided. So yes,
we were very [happy]. I still think that's a good logical way to set it up in the St.
Johns River, I can't say the word, you know what I'm trying to say, hydrological
P: How did you end up determining who got what counties? As I understand it, it's
not so much important whether it's done by county, because occasionally
somebody's district is split.
C: This one's split, Alachua [County]. We had all or part of fifteen, I believe. We're
sitting in Alachua County. Part of Alachua County is drained over to the west into
Suwannee, and part of it drains to the east and goes to the St. Johns. There are
other counties on down, Orange County is...
P: That's a split county.
C: Yes, it's split. I believe, maybe Indian River might be. They tried to keep to the
water hydrological districts and did not stick to the county line.
P: You didn't have any problems with that? In Alachua, we deal, in essence, with
two different water management districts. That didn't create any problems for
you per se?
P: When you started out, did you have any trouble getting South Florida to give you
C: I'd say, no, we didn't have any trouble. "It was not done willingly" would be the
way I'd say it. We were the new kid on the block, as you can imagine. They
were the big powerful functioning district. The transfer was not made freely, but
they didn't have any choice. It wasn't up to the South Florida board. The
legislature had already designated. That took care of that. It wasn't willingly
P: When you started out, did Swiftmud and South Florida give you a lot of advice
and help and support?
C: They were very, very helpful. My close personal relationship with Derrill
[McAteer] was very beneficial. Bob Clark was chairman of South Florida during
a lot of my time. Yes, they were cooperative. They didn't enjoy giving us the
land because with it was a lot of tax money that they didn't get. They certainly
FWM-7 Clay: Page 6
helped us in every way they could.
P: Were you involved in all with the Constitutional Amendment to provide ad
valorem taxing authority for the water management district?
C: Yes, we were. I was personally involved with wanting to put a curb on it. I didn't
want the water management to have an unlimited taxing authority. I still don't.
Yes, we were. Ours is different than some of them. I don't know what it is now,
but St. Johns used to be thirty-seven mils. Am I saying it right?
P: Point three seven mils?
C: Right. Some of those have more taxing authority than we had. I was
conservative and I was always satisfied with that.
P: Is that enough, or has that been enough?
C: I think that's been enough. I certainly do. I really think that's adequate. I don't
know of any areas that the goals that we have on conserving and maintaining
have suffered. If they had more, the boards, then we would spend more.
P: There must have been quite a bit of opposition, I would think, in Putnam County
and other places, to this taxing authority.
C: I told Bob, that was one thing. He remembered. Putnam was very opposed to it.
In fact, even opposed, and I'm not going to say a single heading, but I had a
great hand in getting the district located in Palatka. A great hand. If it wasn't
located in Palatka, it was going to be located somewhere else. That still did not
alleviate all of the criticism and dislike for the water management. The taxes
were never that heavy. As you know, a few cents, but it was never that bad.
P: Taxes are taxes, so people were opposed to it.
C: Putnam County, and I would go so far as to say that even today, when they get
such a huge benefit, that a lot of people, like you put it, just don't like taxes. No, I
had a lot of opposition.
P: Where else might the headquarters have them located?
C: I can tell you some inside political stories, but I'd better keep out of that.
P: No, go ahead, that's good.
C: No, I don't want to get down there. If we had laws, and there was a time a two
that I wasn't watching my politics like I should have, it would have gone to
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Orlando. If I had not been chairman, and you could manipulate a little bit, then it
would have gone to Orlando. It came very close to it.
P: That would have been on the very edge of the district.
C: They had political influence and so on that I was sitting in the right place at the
right time to do around it.
P: Jacksonville wasn't an option?
C: No, it never was much of a contender.
P: Of course, that's where the Army Corp of Engineers would be.
C: Later years, after I was off, so that was after 1981, Volusia County offered a nice
piece of land, and they got the discretion up to get it a little more centrally
located. It was discussed a good bit and there were several meetings, but there
had already been enough money spent to build this facility that I never did worry
that they'd come in and pull out. At the time, we were located in Palatka. It
wasn't in the middle, but it wasn't far from the middle. One of the greatest
problems had been that we did not have the transportation. We did have the
airport, but not great. That was one of the things that they used.
P: Whoever flies in usually has to fly to Jacksonville or Orlando and drive up.
C: I had been very pleased.
P: It seemed to be a good economic boom for Palatka.
C: Very big.
P: A lot of employees now?
C: Oh, yeah. When Jim sent me the bill, one of the things I said was that the board
would locate the headquarters. From the start, that was one of the things that I
was interested in getting done.
P: As part of all of this legislation, there is a Comprehensive Planning Act. What
impact did that have on you in terms of what the state was doing with
comprehensive planning. Did you get, from the Department of Natural
Resources, some sort of overview, some state-wide plan in which you were
supposed to be a participant?
C: The best I could remember, that our planners and our geologists and the people
that we had, the scientists on the staff there, and we had several, and we had
FWM-7 Clay: Page 8
good ones, had to keep that in mind. All our actions had to be covered in our
plan, that's what I remember.
P: ELMS comes up, the Environmental Land and Water Management Act, this sets
up a designation for an area of critical state concern, and the state could
designate that. Did you have any areas in St. Johns?
C: I just don't remember. I can't answer that. I don't remember any, let's put it that
P: When you started out, what were your goals as a member of this new board?
You were just getting started.
C: I guess I was somewhat selfish. Back then, the environmental interests were
very, very strong. I would say that my goal was to try to keep a balance, to try to
see that agriculture interests were not completely left out by the environmental
great strength that they had. Then one of my main goals, too, and as we
mentioned before, in my particular area, water was a problem, so of course, I had
a desire. Drainage has never been much of a problem over in our area right
P: Are you talking about all of St. Johns or are you talking about Hastings?
C: I'm talking about the whole Hastings area.
P: So you've never had a drainage problem?
P: What was your water problem?
C: Going back to one of the worst water problems we had, the cities of Melbourne,
and some of those cities in the lower east coast, got their water out of the
reservoirs we had down there. Drinking water. Water like I think the coastal
towns and some of them are having now. They did not have the water, so they
had to come out into the west and get water. That was the main supply water
problem down in, say, Brevard County. Hastings, they didn't abuse them
enough. You could get salt [water] over there if you over-drained. The main
water shortage we had was along in the Brevard County in the thin strip between
P: Did they take any from the St. Johns?
FWM-7 Clay: Page 9
P: Did your district control all of the St. Johns River?
P: Eventually. When you got started, there were really not many rules or
regulations about water permitting. How did you get started in setting up your
own rules for St. Johns?
C: I'm not going to be able to answer that completely, but I would imagine that we
used the rules that the other districts already had, and modified them and tried to
somewhat pattern our... Now, we couldn't follow them entirely. We had a mighty
good staff. In fact, Dr. Tai, still on the staff over there, was there most of my
time. That's been a good while back. [An engineer]. We developed our own
rules through hearings. We had many, many hours of hearings. Always a lot of
dissatisfaction. I'd say we developed our own with the help of expertise we could
get from Tallahassee and the other two districts.
P: One of the things that comes up with the ELMS Act is the regional impact
statement. I assume that mostly that was the county government or the city
government that would make those regional impact statements. Would you
contribute to that?
C: I just don't remember. I'm going to have to tell you, I don't remember that much.
P: Was there any difference when you changed from DNR to DER? Do you
remember anything different?
C: I remember when we changed, but as far as our work and we had our own
money and it didn't have anything to do with our money, I don't think there was
any big difference.
P: You would have to report to them?
P: Technically, as I understand it, the individual who is the district supervisor can
pretty much do whatever he wants to, is that right? With the approval of the
C: The board, as you know better than I do, once this is approved by the Senate,
they're autonomous. The board can pretty well do what they wanted to. Unless
they have them removed by the legislature by impeachment. You had to follow
the guidelines from Tallahassee and so on. The five boards pretty much were
their own bosses and did what they wanted to do.
P: When you started out, who was responsible for water quality? Was that a job
FWM-7 Clay: Page 10
that was for each water management district or was that something that was
regulated from Tallahassee?
C: My memory would serve me [with] Mr. Alex Senkovich. I would think that the
DER, the answer that I would give you to that question, and I don't remember it
exactly anyways. You're getting me to remember things that have been too far
P: For instance, let's just take an example. If you had an underwater gas tank that
would leak into the aquifer, who would deal with that problem? That would
probably be the DER.
C: I don't remember, but I think it would be the DER. We weren't interfaced with
them, but they had a representative in our building. We worked good with them.
As you know, we worked with the Corp of Engineers on big projects. The Corp of
Engineers was drainage problems.
P: How did you get along with the Corp of Engineers?
C: We got along all right. One of the major problems, and the last big one before I
got off, was that upper St. Johns project.
P: Talk a little bit about that.
C: At that time, and that wasn't popular in my part of the state of Florida, either, the
project down there was to somewhat curtail the over-drainage and save the
water, not drain it all out to the ocean. There's a tremendous project down there
that the Corp of Engineers is cooperating with. I guess they're probably doing it
now. We worked with them very well in planning the project. The Colonel out of
Jacksonville. We always had good relationships with them. That was a project
down in Brevard and Indian River, and probably some of Orange and Osceola
P: What did you do to conserve the water? Did you build reservoirs?
C: That is in the plan, yes. That wasn't much done. It was adopted, and I did take
up a good helpful part of it. It had not come into being at all when I left in 1981.
At that time, we were buying a good bit of land. In my time, we made two or
three good-sized purchases. Since then, they have added a lot more land for
conservation, for reservoirs.
P: Where did you get the money to purchase that land?
C: Back then, it had to come out of taxation money.
P: So there was nothing like Preservation 2000, where the state would help you buy
FWM-7 Clay: Page 11
C: Not then.
P: You could float a bond, could you not?
C: I don't think. We didn't have any. Not to my knowledge.
P: You were limited in what land you could buy because the amount of money you
get from the taxing authority really wasn't enough to buy probably as much as
you would have liked?
C: Oh, no, that's right. We bought a piece from the Teamsters Union [labor union]
in my time.
P: Are these wetlands?
P: Did you do any wetlands mitigation at that time?
C: No. We were so new in the beginning that a lot of the things that you know about
and think about now were just beginning in our time. We hadn't done much of it.
I went off in 1981, which is twenty-three years ago. I don't know how much land
the district owns now, but a tremendous amount for conservation, water control,
and recreation. In fact, they have several pretty good-sized pieces in my county,
in Putnam County.
P: Then they have a couple of lakes and have some recreation, as you indicated?
P: Did you have any problems with what they call, today, the water wars? Where
[for example], Swiftmud wants to get from Suwannee some of the "extra" water?
C: At that time, they weren't as intense as they are now. No, we didn't have any. I
guess the nearest would be that down into Melbourne and that area where
drinking water was so scarce along in the beach towns and so on. There were
some folks that were getting fields all over and further west. No, I don't
remember us having that like they do now.
P: What would you think of that, say, if Tampa and St. Pete said that the Suwannee
River has "extra" water? Would you object if they took that water and crossed
watersheds to provide water to a higher density population?
C: Basically, I would think it would have to be done very carefully. I have never
FWM-7 Clay: Page 12
thought that those of us who have some water and would need it and depend on
it should be penalized to take care of the big population growths and the benefits.
If it's done, I think it would have to be done very judiciously. I wouldn't say that
I'm all completely opposed to it, but certainly I don't think it could be done and
alleviate all of their problems at the expense of others.
P: If you took too much, it would change the water system.
C: One thing I've thought about through the years, and I don't know, I guess it's too
expensive, right over in our area, you know, Silver Springs and some of those
huge millions of gallons of water go on right out to the ocean. I think they've
done some studies on it. There should be some way that they could use some of
that perfect water.
P: It doesn't even have to be treated, does it?
P: What about de-salinization? Has that been a viable option?
C: Not to my knowledge. I imagine since I've been gone they've done a lot of
studying on it. But not in my time. I think it's just too expensive.
P: Talk a little bit about being a board member. I think in the beginning you had a
residency requirement. You had to live in the St. Johns area?
C: St. Johns water management district territories had specific areas that they had
to have a board member. I imagine they still follow that. I expect they do. They
were nine in my time. The board members could not all come from Putnam
County. They had to be Duval, and you always had them over here, and then on
down. There are geological districts in the St. Johns main area, and I guess it's
still that way.
P: The governor makes all of those appointments, right?
P: The question occurs to me, since you don't get any salary, and you don't get any
perks, it's a lot of hard work.
C: I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was peculiar to me that the district of Palatka is only 18
miles from my ranch, so I didn't have far to go. I spent a lot of time on this. I'll
tell you something else. I've been running my mouth too much now. One time,
we had a vacancy in the executive director. To keep from appointing one of our
department heads who we knew would not get it, I served as executive director
FWM-7 Clay: Page 13
and chairman for a six month period. I got a real fine plaque that they gave me.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. [I made] a lot of great friends that I still have.
P: Talk about the board and its selection of the executive director. Who was the
first director you selected and what was the criteria?
C: Dennis Auth was our first director. Their knowledge, as much as we had back
then, of water and water management. We would want an education if possible
to go down that line. When we hired him, we didn't even have an office back
then. He served as director for a good long time and was a brilliant man. He
stepped on a lot of toes through the years and we couldn't keep him on, but he
had a great part in developing that plan down there. I haven't seen him in
several years. We then hired a man by the name of Fred Rouss, who was a
director of Great Lakes, I can't remember the title, but something to do with a
district up around the Great Lakes. Fred was with us for a number of years.
Then we got Sonny Vergera, who stayed with us for several years and then went
to the Southwest [WMD].
P: The board would hire the executive director for a term of four years?
C: No. It wasn't determined in years. I guess you served at the pleasure of the
board. To my knowledge, I don't remember there being a time limit.
P: The board technically could remove the executive director anytime they wanted
P: Did you have to do that at all with any of the executive directors?
C: Yes, we did. You see, as chairman, I couldn't do that, because, as you know,
you had to have the say-so of all of the board. You couldn't do [it because of] the
Florida Sunshine Law. We did terminate several.
P: What would usually be the reason?
C: I don't want to mention any names at all. One got a little too overbearing with his
programs and not following the wishes of the board. Another that just was not
efficient; just didn't do the job. Those were the only two I outright remember of
our letting go. Just about like any job. There would be some dissatisfaction on
the board. Some would think he was doing a good job and others would think he
wasn't. You've got nine people. It was strictly at the pleasure of the board.
There was no long-term contract.
P: You would evaluate them on an annual basis?
FWM-7 Clay: Page 14
P: How much of an impact did the Sunshine Law have on the board?
C: It had a great effect. I can say as long as or as little as I want to. It wasn't
followed to the nth degree, certainly. It was in the back of your mind. It was
followed, but not completely. I'd be sitting here lying if I said it was completely
P: When you had a board meeting, that would be publicly announced? Anybody
could come? The press could come?
C: Right. I had some real good friends that came. They were rank
environmentalists, and they came to all of the meetings, and we'd have a good
crowd. Now, my seventy-nine years show here, you'd have to help me, the lady
that was such a sweet dear old lady, environmental...
P: Marjory Stoneman Douglas?
C: Yeah. She came to quite a few of our meetings. We had some
environmentalists. The Audubon Society, he is still the Florida representative. I
remember exactly what he looks like, but I can't recall his name. At all of our
meetings, there were way more of the people that were environmentally
concerned than there were from agriculture and industry or something like that.
They were very, very good people, easy to work with. They were faithful in their
P: Would you call some of these groups extreme environmentalists?
C: No, not extreme. Strong and very dedicated to their programs, but we didn't
have any great problems. I wouldn't say extreme, but very strong and dedicated.
I'm trying to think of that man, Audubon.
P: I'll think of his name.
C: We had here from your university, one of the first members on the first board with
me, was a Suzanne Bailey. She was a strong an environmentalist as we ever
had on the board. Then there was a Jim Nat from Stetson was on the original
board. Both of them were...
P: Were they academics then?
P: You would have a rancher, an academic, a business person. Did you have a
FWM-7 Clay: Page 15
pretty good mix?
C: Yes. The initial board has a gentleman that you are aware of. Did you know
P: Oh, yes.
C: Well, he was our first chairman. I mentioned Suzanne Bailey, who was here on
the staff here. Jim Nat was at Stetson. Jim Terrell, a logger from Jacksonville,
Tommy Shave was a timberman from Nassau County, John Smoke from
Seminole County. We had one farmer from Hastings, Bobby White, and I
believe that pretty well covers all of it.
P: Did the board work well together? Because between the business people and
the guy from Hastings would be a pretty broad difference.
C: And me, too. Art was not overbearing. We were all truly disappointed when the
governor did not reappoint him. Art went too far and caused his own problems.
He openly bucked the governor on some policies. Openly. That didn't work.
That was the reason. He was a good one; very capable. Probably the most
capable chairman we ever had. We all liked him.
P: He obviously has had a significant influence on management, at least in the state
of Florida. He's an important figure.
C: I noticed recently a park somewhere, where is it?
P: I don't know.
C: Is it in our district? [He is a] very, very capable man. I enjoyed working with him.
P: One of the problems that we don't hear much on the board, all of these
circumstances where there are conflicts of interest. Say the guy who is in the
timber business owns land, and the board wants to buy that land. How did you
deal with that?
C: The only land that we bought back in those days...that was just starting. We
bought, as I mentioned, a piece from the Teamster's Union. I could tell a long
story. They sent me, a country boy, to Chicago to deal with one of the
president's of the Teamster's Union that I'm not going to mention. He was so
kind and so gracious. We bought a piece from a Mr. Edwards down in Dade
City; citrus land. We did not buy any at all from board members or local
interests. I don't think they buy much from local.
P: How did you deal with the problem of allocation of water? Agriculture needs so
FWM-7 Clay: Page 16
much, communities need so much.
C: Again, back early, we were able to pretty well grant the permits that people asked
for. There would be some that we couldn't. We didn't have the demand on the
water that you have, twenty-five years ago that I'm talking about, that you have
now. There was about enough water that if the permit request was pretty
reasonable and you didn't think it was going to cause a great shortage, which it
didn't, we were able to grant back then. I don't know how many they granted. It
looks to me, looking now, that they grant most of the permits now. We didn't.
P: You permitted wells?
C: Right. We started that in my time. One of the first, I remember a development
right opposite the mall in Orange Park. It was one of the first discussions we
had. It was on water management, I think, instead, because they didn't have to
have the supply. What was the name of that subdivision? I can't remember it
now. It was very seldom in my memory that we turned down a request for water.
P: Did you have any water basins?
P: Swiftmud had some. You had some? Would you have basin boards?
C: Yes. The only one we had was around Marion County. I remember the folks. I
can't remember to tell you exactly how they functioned with us. We had one, I
remember. I haven't thought of it for a few years, I can't call it now. We did have
the one, but we did not have them like Swiftmud. Not near the extent that they
P: Once you have set up your standards, what would you say when you were
starting out, other than getting organized, getting your headquarters? What were
the biggest problems that you faced when you first started?
C: Staff, of course, I'd say was the biggest problem, because we didn't have any. I
mentioned to you Dennis Auth, to start with, then went on from there. I would
say getting a real good staff that we were proud of and accepted as capable.
That was one of the problems. You mentioned location was one of them.
P: Did you all have enough scientists at the beginning?
C: We had good water hydrologists. The scientists that I mainly can remember and
tell you were the hydrologists, we sure had to have more, but we had good staff.
I was satisfied. There's still three of them that were hired back in my early days
on the staff out there now.
FWM-7 Clay: Page 17
[End Tape 1, Side 1]
P: I guess the St. Johns River is on the Floridan aquifer? How important is it in
terms of the water supply and how do you keep from polluting that aquifer? What
did you do about run-off?
C: That's one of the areas that we got into early. They weren't very strong on
pollution of the aquifer, because it is so valuable to all of us. That's one of the
areas that I think they've done a very good job. Our water comes from them.
We've had a lot of discussion, through the years, of the water that sand mines
use in our area. Our hydrologists always said that the water they're using comes
from a different elevation and a different source from the Floridan aquifer. So the
water problems we have over there, in my area, have not been brought on by the
tremendous amount that the sand mines use. The biggest water problems we
have had, I guess that's everywhere, the developments over on the eastern part
of the [state]. I imagine Jacksonville probably has some, too. In my time, we
only had the one office in Palatka, and then we inherited an office in Melbourne,
from South Florida, and then we opened one in Jacksonville. Now, I think
they've got some pretty big offices scattered around, but that's all we had.
P: What impact did the phosphate industry have?
C: Not any in this one. That would go with Swiftmud. We have some in Polk
County, but it's just the northeast county, and the phosphate, we had no problem
P: Talk about minimum flow of rivers and minimum and maximum levels for lakes.
How did you determine what the minimum level for a lake was or maximum level,
and then how did you react to periods of drought or periods of flood?
C: I remember on this. There was some of the irrigation that came from lakes. Not
much, but some. If it was extremely dry, then that irrigation amount of water they
could take was curtailed, if not stopped immediately. On my ranch, just talking
about water, we had up until ten years ago, we had eight or ten nice lakes.
Good-sized. Now we have one. It recently had been bone-dry for a number of
years. We've attributed that to the tremendous growth in Florida. They're using
more water, there has been more drainage of areas. Water, as you know a
whole lot better than I do, the rainfall has been about eight or ten inches a year
short for ten years, I would say.
P: Except for the last month [Florida suffered through four major hurricanes
resulting in extensive rainfall] [laughter].
C: During which, I forget, of our four hurricanes, we had twenty-two inches. It did
FWM-7 Clay: Page 18
not cause any problem except one. I plant about three or four hundred acres of
muck in the winter for grazing. I won't do that this year. I'm going to have a
cattle feed problem, because that muck is kind of little lakes out there.
P: When I was in Suwannee, part of the office at Suwannee was still under water.
When you have a problem, then everybody wants water management to solve it.
If it's a drought, they want something done immediately. If it's a flood, they
probably don't pay much attention to you. What's the biggest problem dealing
C: I'll have to answer right quick on that. I don't know of any problems, well, there's
problems, of course, but I don't know of any action or any activities that.... As you
go along, we've had ditches and canals. We try to think of that as you go along.
I don't know of anything that they do.
P: Did you build ditches to drain off the flood water?
C: The district?
C: No. What I was referring to that was, just in the development project, they [were]
opening up a big piece of land of agriculture, they put in the ditching to take care
of the rain and not over-draining, too.
P: One of the problems in this state is that they keep building on flood plains.
Should there be some restriction?
C: That'll maybe go to me. We've had houses I've seen that have flooded just
temporarily, but it got flooded because they built down where they shouldn't. Of
course, we have more hurricanes. Not a major amount, but they have built [on
P: In terms of public education, would you send out information from the water
management district telling people not to build on the flood plains?
C: I think they do. I'm sure that they're very aware of that.
P: When you started out, what were the biggest strengths of the water management
district during your eight years there? Some people would argue that the
independence of these lay boards was a favorable aspect.
C: I think you said it. The fact that we could, in our best judgment, thinking about
everybody and coming up with programs and plans and permits and so on. We
were not controlled, as you know. The governor didn't tell us anything. I served
FWM-7 Clay: Page 19
under two governors, and the governor's office never told us anything like that. I
think that appointed boards are great.
P: You would be opposed to an elected board.
C: I sure would. Sometimes our elections can go awry. I think the governors of
Florida have been very careful. They've appointed some good boards. I'm just
afraid that if it was elected, and salaried, I don't think it ought to be salaried. I like
the system as it is. I think that's the best way of thinking. I think the legislature
was wise when they set it up that way. Every once in a while, through all of my
years, there will be somebody who will want to get them elected and pay a
salary. I don't think that. I think if you do that, then you're going to get the
members on the board under more pressure than they are now.
P: What would happen if a member of the board just didn't do any work?
C: We never had that, we had excellent attendance. You can go back and check
those records. Most meetings, unless there was some emergency, we had one
P: People had done their homework the week before?
C: We had the agenda and the board material sent out to us well in advance. I just
had a great board and the great pleasure of working with them. They all knew
that I was much more conservative than they were. That wasn't any secret. We
had good boards.
P: Some critics said one of the weaknesses is that there's not enough supervision
because this board has taxing authority and basically the government of the state
doesn't do much regulating of it. The county commissioners don't regulate it.
C: No they don't.
P: Is that a potential problem?
C: I mentioned that early. I certainly want that millage controlled. I don't want them
to just turn the taxing authority over to them where they could assess us to five
mills. Under the current situation, I don't think that we've been overtaxed. I think
it's been used wisely. I just like this system. I'm prejudiced after all these years.
P: What would be, if you looked back at your eight years, your best experience with
the board? What accomplishment or experience would you think of in the most
FWM-7 Clay: Page 20
C: I think probably the best project that we maybe had the most contribution that we
may have done, would be in sponsoring and working on that upper St. Johns
project down there. The drainage, irrigation, and water control. That's routine.
That was a big project. It took a lot of planning. I was criticized for favoring it.
Me favoring something down there and the amount of time and money... I think
that the work that was done down there is probably as good a lasting tribute as
[we had done].
P: Speaking of that, did you get any grants from the federal government? Did you
go at all and appeal to them for money?
P: Were you ever in any kind of conflict at all with other water management districts
in any of these projects? Did they feel like you were intruding?
C: Not that. We were in conflict with one other board chairman, and I remember we
had breakfast with Governor Graham [Florida Governor Bob Graham, 1979-
1987] at one time. We squabbled over the way that the legislature would allocate
some of the amount. We got some direct allocations from the legislature.
P: When you started, you had to.
C: Of course, the other two got the biggest part of it. We had a very friendly rivalry
in dividing up the amount of money that the state put into it.
P: I know you've not been involved specifically, but how would you say the water
management district in St. Johns has changed from 1973 to the present? Are
they better than they were, more efficient, less efficient?
C: You're just asking me something that I'm honestly not in a position to answer.
I'm not familiar enough with any workings there to answer. I've heard a lot of
criticisms. One thing I've noticed in my conservatism, when I left as chairman,
and went off, the budget was $7,000,000. Now it's about $170,000,000. That's
noticed and commented on, the amount that they raise and spend.
P: How did you get along with local government: county commissioners, city
C: We had no problems. Quite often they had serious requests to make, but I don't
know of any animosity that we didn't work out. I don't remember any in Putnam
County, period. Marion County and further on down, again, I keep dwelling on it.
One of the greatest problems we had back then was the water supply for that
lower east coast of our district. We had calls from city government and from
county government, but as far as I know, we worked them out.
FWM-7 Clay: Page 21
P: Would you spend some time deliberately going to the county commissioners and
talking with them, asking them what their problems were?
C: No. That's probably a weakness. I don't remember well. I remember going to
several, but I don't remember of our going and saying, here we are, can you help
us, can we help you. I don't remember that.
P: How about public education? What did you do to tell the population, particularly
since you were new, what these water managements did?
C: We had publications. We had printed materials and bulletins. We had a public
relations employee in the office there. They usually did a good job working with
the press. I think, back in those years, we did a fair job in dispersing information
and material that they should have.
P: Derrill McAteer had a T.V. show. You didn't have that, did you?
C: No [laughter].
P: You're not surprised to learn that, are you?
C: No. Derrill was something else. Derrill was such a good friend to my son that he
and I got along well. You had to be careful.
P: How influential could political pressure be to get the board to do something?
There's always going to be interests concerned with WMD's, whether it's
environmental or ranching or whatever. They have lobbyists in the legislature.
They recruit people who have influence. Were you were pressured politically to
C: I don't remember of any great pressure of us to approve or permit a new
development or not put something in our regulations. The nearest we would
come, and you're going to get tired of me saying it, of having pressure was to
develop something down in that lower east coast area. The governors, well, they
needed it so bad. We were influenced. I remember a county commissioner from
the Brevard County. Specifically later on, he got put on the district board out
here. I just don't remember any of the Alachua County board coming to us and
really exerting pressure on us to do it. Mine never once pressured me. In fact,
they weren't much aware of the building situation 'till we got it settled. I would tell
you, but I just cannot remember any great pressure that put on environmental
matters, as you know. I don't remember any county government that severely
pressured us. We just didn't have a lot of interface with county government.
P: They tell me today that one of the problems with water management districts is
that everybody wants water management districts to do something for the county
FWM-7 Clay: Page 22
or the city, but the county or the city doesn't want to pay for it. Or the legislature
wants WMD's to do something. Today they have many more responsibilities
than they may have had in the past.
C: I'm just not familiar with all of that.
P: That wasn't a problem for you?
C: No. I'm just not familiar with all of that.
P: You know how it works? They got taxing authority, they got money, so people all
want them to do things.
C: I read on something the other day. A lady called me. She said, I remember you
used to be at the water management. The county had built a road back where
we didn't have any water. Now that we've got all kinds of water, it went over into
her property. When they built the road, they didn't put the right drainage in. She
asked me what she should do. I said, well, I think that the county and water
management would have to decide which one is responsible. They never did.
She had to go to her lawyer. I don't know how it's going to turn out. The county
put in a road. It just blocked the drainage and flooded the lady out. I thought the
county should have been responsible. That was just recently.
P: You would run into those kinds of problems sometimes?
C: Oh, yeah.
P: How did you deal with conservation? One of the issues when you start out is a
drought situation, to some degree. Would you regulate the number of times
people could water their lawns?
P: Did you use gray water?
C: From time to time, we did that. We still do now. I remember doing that now. I
don't remember the time as much as the process that we did have.
P: How do you enforce something like that?
C: We didn't have any policemen on our staff. I know we had the regulations. I
don't remember us ever prosecuting anybody. I can't answer that.
P: There would be a fine for violating that.
FWM-7 Clay: Page 23
C: I don't remember the board ever levying any dollar fines.
P: Did you have the authority to do it?
C: Yes, we could have, but I don't remember our doing that.
P: It's mainly voluntary adherers.
C: That's right. If you knew, you were supposed to water at such a time. If you
didn't, your neighbor would see you and everybody else would. So I think it was
P: Did you encourage use of gray water for golf courses and things like that?
C: Yes, but I don't think we were very successful in doing that. I remember we had
one staff member that worked on that.
P: Would you go so far as to encourage people to use low-flow toilets or anything
C: No, not back then.
P: You didn't get that far.
C: Not back then, no.
P: One of the critics of water management districts for this whole period of time
argued that the water management districts never paid enough attention to
scientific input. What would be your reaction to that during your time?
C: I don't think that I would agree on that. We had scientific staff members that
were there that would come up with findings and with studies and with programs.
The biggest part of the time the board would go along with them. I don't know
everything, but I don't think that they disregarded the scientific information. I
don't know enough now [about] how they operate, to tell you the truth. You
know, I have not been to a meeting, and I live on the west side. I live about
fifteen miles, I go by it two or three times a week going to town, but I have not
been to a meeting since I got off. I don't think you need to stick yourself in it. In
fact, I was telling someone the other day, for the first time since the district was
started, I do not know the first one of the nine members. I've had personal
friends all the way up. Jim Williams was on it at one time, and others. But right
now, today, I do not personally know. I just have not had much to do with it. I
know a lot of personnel, but not the board.
P: Can you give me some idea of what do you think water management districts
FWM-7 Clay: Page 24
ought to be doing in the future? What their specific problems are going to be?
C: I think the greatest problems is going to be the allocation of water. As the
demands become more, I think that's going to be [the main problem,] by far. I
don't see that the drainage is a major problem. But the use of water, whether I'm
going to get it tomorrow rationed or you're going to get it for the city. I think the
allocation of water, not only here, but throughout the country, is going to be...
P: Would you ever think of something like a user fee?
C: Yes. I think that could be worked in and it would be fair. The one that uses the
most then would pay the most. What amazes me is looking out west, I saw the
other day in Las Vegas, Lake Meade there, it's just way, way down. Yet they are
just pouring water into the city of Las Vegas for every kind of lawn.
P: That's probably the fastest-growing city in the country.
C: That's right.
P: If you get into the situation in Florida where it's growing, that means that water is
going to become more scarce and therefore more expensive.
C: That's exactly right.
P: How is the water management district going to deal with that problem?
Obviously there are going to be people who need it who can't pay for it.
C: Also, if you started charging, that would bring in a whole other department and
bureaucracy. It would be huge. I was opposed back in my time to put meters on
the wells. They did anyways. It shouldn't have been done. I think your
statement there about charging certainly has merit, but it would be a painful
P: I can assure you that no users would be in favor of it.
C: I don't know how they'll solve the problem out west. I believe it was in Arizona
somewhere, where so much agriculture a year or two ago, they couldn't get the
water at all to do their irrigation.
P: Aren't we losing agriculture lands every day in the state?
C: Oh yes. Over my way, yes, for development.
P: My view, and I'm not an expert at all in this, the biggest problem in the future of
the state of Florida is going to be water.
FWM-7 Clay: Page 25
C: I agree. That's what I told you a while ago. That's something that I don't know
how we're going to handle it.
P: Apparently nobody's thinking about it.
C: That's why they're not doing anything. They're doing the contrary to what we're
saying. They're encouraging more and more people to come in. If we have a lot
more hurricanes, maybe we won't have the people here.
P: That's a hard way to get them not to come.
C: Let me tell you right quick. We lost, on our ranch, just hundreds, not few, of oak
trees like so. In a three hundred yard half-circle in the front of the house where
the house sits back in the oak trees, there were thirty-something trees scattered
throughout the pasture and around the green. Big trees.
P: Of course, they have shallow roots.
C: They were just pulled over. There was a lot of breakage, but the biggest part by
far is roots and all of this.
P: I wanted to ask you, I know you were involved in the scientific study, the Cross-
Florida Barge Canal [a canal that was to connect the St. Johns River to the Gulf
of Mexico]. Talk to me a little bit about that.
C: Now wait a minute. I wasn't involved in that. Not in the scientific. I was involved
in some other phases.
P: Talk about your experience with the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.
C: That is so personal. We have a boys ranch in Palatka. The only charter director,
and the oldest living director and I've been active in it fifty-four years. It is right
on the south side of the Florida Barge Canal. We've had dutyship where our
land touches theirs, they've let us use some of the land and they've used some
of ours and so on. Like that. As far as scientific reasoning or when it was
stopped, no. I didn't have any.
P: Did you think it was harmful to the environment and should have been stopped?
C: No. I don't. I don't know. I'm very opposed to the fact that they want to go in
and drain that Rodman [Dam]. One of these days they're going to get enough
P: What would be the negative aspect of draining Rodman?
FWM-7 Clay: Page 26
C: You would have a just impossible, for several generations, in that muck base
there, just a mess of growth there. It would be a long, long time before it would
be anything but a quagmire out there.
P: If you look at the Everglades, and I know this is not a part of what you're doing,
but if you look at the Everglades restoration, how is that going to impact the
C: I know such little about it to tell you, but I think that it ought to be beneficial to us
because of the water supply you and I talked about. That would be my only
observation on that.
P: They can prevent a lot of that water draining into the Biscayne Bay or wherever.
Is it worthwhile to put it in reservoirs or does it evaporate too fast?
C: They do that tremendously now. One of the things, I guess even before
Swiftmud at the time, that caused a problem down there, as you know, are those
great big canals that took everything to the ocean.
P: Why is the Florida water management system so unique? Is there any other
system anywhere in the county like it?
C: I'm on a bank board. In fact, that's where I was this past weekend. I visited with
my friends there. We covered fifteen states in the southeastern part of the
country. They don't have anything like ours. I think that probably what brought
this on was the over-drainage in the southeast. I think that they've got enough
pressure in the legislature to try to start something. Plus the demands for
drinking water was so backed up. No, I don't think there's another in the states
that have had water problems out west with irrigation and so on. California,
they've got to have mountain water out there. Boards and so on. I don't know of
any like us. I think it's very different and I think has been successful. I don't think
the amount of taxes we pay, and I fuss about mine every year like everybody
else, but it hasn't hurt anybody. I think it's been beneficial.
P: If you're going to solve a problem, at least the state of Florida has some structure
in place to begin with rather than having to start from scratch.
C: That's right. We may be a little bit ahead. I would think one of the states that
has as acute water problems as anyone, on account of our influx of people on
the coast. As we've always said, the people are on the two coasts and the
water's on the interior.
P: In your eight years, was there anything that happened, or any idea that you came
across or any experience that you had, that would have changed your view of
what water management was supposed to do?
FWM-7 Clay: Page 27
C: Now, I have to think. I don't know of anything that would have changed what I
would have thought that we should do. I've mentioned it to you so many times,
opposed to any great big taxation, but I don't think that was abused at all. I don't
think there are any empire building in the water management. I don't know of
P: What were the most important people that you dealt with during water
management, who had the greatest influence on either water management state-
wide or in your district?
C: The colonel of the Corp of Engineers in Jacksonville, the engineers, as you
know, had such an influence on the projects. The DER and DNR secretaries in
Tallahassee, they had influence on us. I couldn't say that the governors had
influence on us. I wouldn't say that the senators or the representatives. The
agriculture groups, I always told them. They didn't send people to all those
meetings like the environmentalists. They don't just fuss if something happens
because you haven't got anybody here to say anything. The agriculture groups,
they may have down in other districts where they've got more agriculture
problems than we have. They didn't try to influence or help us on any of the
situations. The other board chairmen. They had influence on all of us. We met
together periodically and had great... One of my good friends still is Jerome
Johns. Have you talked to Jerome?
P: No, but his name's on the list.
C: Oh, he's just been a good friend for years. I see him occasionally. You know,
his father was governor at one time.
P: Charlie Johns [acting governor of Florida, 1953-55].
C: Yes. I'm trying to think
P: I was thinking of somebody maybe like Nat Reed?
C: No. I remember him, of course. Maybe some of the other districts.
P: How about any DER director or DNR director that was particularly influential?
C: I can't tell you a name. You have to give me a little time. I'm going to get you the
names. I cannot remember names well enough to tell you on that. Nat was
about the most influential and well-known environmentalist. He and Mrs.
Douglas [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] in Florida at that time. I don't know who is
now. What in the world is that Audubon Society? I still see his name in the
paper. He attended meetings.
P: I know who you're talking about. I'll remember. One of us will. Are there any
FWM-7 Clay: Page 28
really interesting incidents that happened or amusing events that you could tell
us about? I remember I was talking to somebody and they got a call in the
middle of the night and one of the dams had broken
C: That would be down in there. I didn't have that. We just had one.
P: You didn't have but one.
C: There were a lot of political maneuvers that I couldn't tell you about. I don't know
of anything to tell you on that.
P: Is there anything that we have not talked about that you would like to talk about?
C: No. You've come up with a lot of things that in my seventy-five years of age that
I don't remember all of it and have forgotten it. You've covered well. I told Bob
[Moresi], I didn't know a whole lot that I could tell you that would be worthwhile.
P: No, this is good.
C: Again, he's the reason I came. When you see him, you tell him and emphasize
P: Okay. Well, on that note, we'll end the interview. I want to thank you for your
[End of Interview]