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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I'm with Estus Whitfield in Tallahassee, Florida. It is
August 29, 2005. Give me your early background. You were born in Niceville, I
P: What was your early background like? Did you grow up there?
W: I was actually born in Crestview, Florida.
P: Crestview has the hospital.
W: Crestview is where the hospital was. Niceville didn't have one. I grew up in
Niceville and my dad worked for the Air Force. He was a forest ranger in the
U.S. Air Force. Niceville, being a very rural area, a small town of 5,000 people,
Elgin Air Force Base Reservation being an 800,000-plus acre natural forest area,
with my dad being a firefighter and forest ranger civil servant, my background
was basically rural. Hunting, fishing, swimming, doing the things that a very rural
country boy would do growing up. I went to elementary school in Niceville, high
school in Shalimar, Choctawhatchee High School. I went on to Troy State
College in Troy, Alabama. I got a degree in biology at Troy State. About 1965, I
joined the National Guard, worked for a year with the Okaloosa County Health
Department as a sanitarian.
I joined the Navy in 1966 and went to Navy OCS in Newport, Rhode Island
and spent the next almost four years in the active duty Navy. I came out of the
Navy in 1969, settled in Jacksonville, and after a year of working at Hope Haven
Children's Hospital, I graduated from the University of Florida and got a master's
degree in Forestry Wildlife Ecology, [and] got a job with the state. I think my job
title was government analyst, handling environmental impact statements at the
P: How did your master's degree in particular help your career?
W: What I found when I went to work with the state, as I said, I was kind of in charge
of the Natural Environmental Policy Act that passed on December 31, 1969; it
came into effect the next day, January 1, 1970. It required that states set up
state clearing houses for the purpose of coordinating the review of federal
environment impact statements. I came along in early 1971 so I was at the
beginning of the states' review of environmental impact statements. What I
found, the benefit of my degree was, is that I could tell fact from fantasy in
reviewing environmental impact statements and in reviewing peoples' comments
on environmental impact statements.
I had a little bit of a leg-up because that was in the very infancy of
environmentalism in the state of Florida, and in particular, reviewing
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -2-
environmental impact statements as well as notification of intent to fund projects
in the state by the federal government. Clearinghouses not only reviewed
environmental impact statements, but all intents of the federal government to
fund projects such as small watershed projects by the Soil Conservation Service,
Department of Transportation, Corp of Engineers, Coast Guard, Air Force, [and]
Army. The benefit of having a scientific degree, an ecological-type degree, I
thought it was invaluable because I could see from both the administrative point
of view as well as the scientific point of view what was being proposed and was
able to sort out whether the projects or the comments that some state agency
was making had any validity. I think it was fortunate for me, and I believe maybe
fortunate for the state of Florida that I had the benefit of that.
P: I believe it was the Comprehensive Planning Act of 1972 that reorganized state
government and set up, I think it was a division of state-planning, is that right?
P: So you went to work for them?
W: Yes. When I started off in early 1971, when I took my job, I was in the old
Department of Administration Division of Budget. When Bob Graham [Robert
"Bob" Graham U.S. Senator from Florida, 1987-present; Florida governor,
1979-1987] got elected, one of the things that he did was reorganize state
government, creating an Office of Planning and Budgeting. State planning was
created and that merged budgeting and planning together, and all of that
happened as a result of that Comprehensive Planning Act that you mentioned.
P: How did that work out? I think Graham thought it would be more efficient if the
planning and budget went along together.
W: Graham's idea has been most everybody's idea since, even though it's very
difficult to achieve. His idea was that planning should drive the budgeting, but
you should know what you're doing and have plans for it before you budget.
From the other angle, the budget people will say, budgeting includes planning.
That's a difficult situation because planning is necessarily much longer-term and
budgeting is short-term. Budgeting is usually year-to-year. It did work very well
because it put the budgeteers and the planners in the same building, sometimes
in the same room and made them talk to one another. We used to have great
debates with the budget people. What was beneficial about it is [that] it taught
the budgeteers what the planners were thinking and it taught the planners what
the budgeteers were thinking. It didn't work ideally, and it never will, but it was
very beneficial. It was an outstanding move.
P: At least in terms of communication.
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -3-
P: Did you have much to do with the 1972 Water Resources Act?
W: I was there at the time. I wouldn't say that I was a major player. As I mentioned,
in 1972, I was basically coordinating federal environmental impact statements
and intents to fund state activities by the federal government. I was aware of
what was going on. I was paying attention but I would remiss to say that I was a
major player in that.
P: What do you think was the most important concept in setting up the water
management districts? The division according to hydrology or the regulatory
power they were given?
W: I think in my mind, in retrospect, there were probably two things that were most
important. One was that the state was divided up into at one time six, it actually
became five, water management districts, which were generally, roughly set up
on hydrologic basins. The hydrologic basin is probably over emphasized, but it's
an important concept. I think probably what was more important was the
establishment of the boards and the semi-autonomy of the boards, and the basic
structure of the water management districts. Not to de-emphasize the hydrologic
basin. That's an important concept. I think the board autonomy, being appointed
by the governor, being a little bit remote, in most cases from pure politics, that
doesn't always work. That autonomy hasn't been all that apparent in the last
seven or eight years. Generally speaking, that autonomy is very important.
P: You think that the appointed board members are better than elected board
W: I think it is, absolutely. I'll defend that to the end.
P: Talk a little bit about the appointments made to these boards, particularly in the
beginning. Were the appointments both diverse, representing farmers and
developers, and were they good people in terms of their ability to work on the
W: Generally speaking, I would say overall the boards have been good. I can think
of instances where the boards have been pretty weak. It kind of depends on the
individuals that are appointed. I think all the governors that I've been familiar
with and worked for have been extremely conscientious in appointing board
members to water management boards because the governors have always
known, going from Askew to Graham to Martinez to Chiles to Bush, that the
water management districts are probably the most significant entities in the state
of Florida as far as affecting the physical and growth management aspects of the
state. I think all of the governors have been conscientious in appointing them.
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -4-
What I think has often happened is that based on political affiliation, people have
been appointed. I'll say that by and large, over my history, that the boards have
generally been good and really cared and tried. But, that's not to say that in
many cases the boards, because it is hard work, being a water management
district board member, being an effective one, is hard work. I've seen boards
that didn't want to do the hard work, and they become somewhat subservient to
the staff. If the water management district staff tells you we've got a great board,
they probably don't have a great board. If they say, our board's a pain-in-the-
ass, it's probably a good board. The staff wants to do things their way. If the
board is being a strong board it may not be the way of the staff.
I think that all of the governors, by law, have to be diverse. They have to
do them geographically. They get criticized if they don't pick various interests. I
don't think it matters where the guy works or what his background [is], it's
whether he's a smart, conscientious, and objective guy. Some of the best board
members that I've ever encountered have come from special interests from an
environmental point of view. They turn out to be the most objective because
what you need for a board member is an objective thinker and an honest guy
that's not trying to promote his own business or get clients. You can go back and
look at the records of votes of board members. If you see one abstain about one
out of four times, he's abstaining because he's got some involvement or interest
in the issue that's being voted on.
P: What do you do about conflict of interest? I have, without being specific, heard a
couple of tales where somebody made a vote to take care of a friend. How do
you deal with that kind of activity?
W: That kind of activity is illegal. If he votes for a friend, that may not be illegal, but if
he votes on something that can be traced back to his own financial interest, that's
P: So if he owns a portion of a land that they purchase...
W: Or if he's an engineer or if he's the head or works in an engineering consultant
firm and he's voting on projects that his consulting firm will benefit from, and I'm
not going to name names, but that's happened more than once, that's conflict of
P: What is done about it?
W: Someone has to bring it to the attention of the water management district legal
staff or the ethics commission or the governor's office and then it gets
investigated. If nobody brings it up then it just happens. It's happened over time.
P: In a practical sense; there's no perks, there's no money, you wonder why people
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -5-
would want to serve on this water management board.
W: Let's take Auley for example. Auley is a good example. This is Auley Rowell.
Auley is a guy that just cares about the interest of good government and trying to
keep water management districts from over-regulating or doing something
detrimental to the interest of rural north Florida. That's a noble interest. A noble
interest is that you want to be on the board to cause water management district
to protect water supplies or protect the environment or to protect an agricultural
interest or to protect maybe a business interest or local government interest.
Those are noble interests. What isn't noble is to be on the water management
board to solicit clients and solicit business for your engineering firm, or your law
firm, or your whatever firm, or business you have. It's hard to sort that out.
Usually it's in retrospect.
P: Auley was talking about the difficult choice between somebody's livelihood and
protecting the environment. How did they go about making those kinds of
W: That's the benefit of having a nine-member board. You've got all the various
interests and a board member should going in say, the most important thing is
the interest of the state of Florida. That interest is represented by protecting
water resources of the state. The water resources have to be protected for the
long-term benefit of the state. On down the line, I have a farming interest, or a
local government interest, or an environmental interest. I've got to represent that
interest, but that interest should not overwhelm the greater interest. I think that
the ones that sort that out and look at it that way, it all works as a compromise.
Most water management decisions are compromises, and I believe that when
you mix all of these from the local government, to the agriculture, to the
developer interest, to the environmental interest and all in between those
spectrums, that you get a good decision if there's no negative political play going
on and if none of the board members are acting in some kind of special-interest.
If they're all trying to achieve the best interests of water resources, then the
interplay of the various sub-interests always work out.
P: One of the hard things is always persuading, let's say, farmers that it's in their
interests to pay these ad valorem taxes and that there are certain restrictions that
in the long run are going to be beneficial, like they can't build on the flood plain.
Yet, sometimes there's this hardcore opposition to the water management
districts and I don't know if that was existing in your time or not.
W: Oh, yeah. That's a whole different story, but the water management districts
have been controversial since the beginning of water management in Florida.
Water management has always been controversial. The water management
districts, once they were established in 1972 or 1973, since that time through a
lot of different machinations, they got great power. A lot of that power that they
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -6-
got was because of opposition to what the state was doing. In other words, once
the state DEP, began environmental protection or environmental regulation and
began to get tough regulating dredge and fill and water quality, the business
interests and agricultural interests took notice. It's my read that as the business
and agricultural interest began to get very dissatisfied with the state who they
couldn't control, they began to pressure for the movement of these regulatory
programs to the water management districts who they thought they could control,
particularly through the legislature. Water management has been probably
shaped and formed by the business interests more than any other entity, a lot by
the agricultural interests, and a lot by the environmental interests. The water
management districts, certainly they were anxious and willing to take on new
authority because that gives them power and everybody wants power. What
they didn't realize is that was going to put them in the vortex of the controversy.
That's been both good and bad. Their gaining of power, particularly in the 1980s
and the early part of the 1990s, has been a mixed blessing for them.
P: One of the things that comes up and I talked to several people about this is when
the farmers all understand they're going to regulate consumptive use of water,
they get all bent out of shape of the agreement. Then they realize that they're
guaranteed water for the length of that time. In the drought, they get that water.
It seems to me over a period of time there are disagreements, but most people
understand the beneficial aspect of water management. Is that fair to say?
W: I think everybody understands the benefits of water management district. You
won't have anybody say that you shouldn't regulate. Everybody's got their own
slant on it. The agricultural people will tell you we've got to regulate water, but in
the back of everybody's mind there's a calculation of how can I support this
concept and profit from it? That's in the back of everybody's mind. Nobody's
going to say we shouldn't defend this country, that we shouldn't have warred to
defend this country, or that we shouldn't defend water management. But,
everybody's got their own slant on it and it's based on what would benefit them.
P: The Suwanee River set up a program called CARES. You know about that. The
idea was to be more cooperative, give incentives to farmers to build sheds for
chicken waste or whatever it might be. Do you think that system worked? If you
took a farmer who wasn't going to pay $100,000 to build it, but if he only had to
pay $15,000 and it benefits him and it doesn't cost him that much, and it gives
the state some control of waste, is that better than hardcore regulation?
W: If you want my opinion, the little so-called BMP's that have cropped up in the
Suwanee River and the Kissimmee River and the Lake Okeechobee area.
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -7-
P: Best Management Practices?
W: Best Management Practices. A lot of that is pretty good stuff. The public pays
for that. I've always been an advocate that you're responsible for your own
pollution. Why should the public pay a chicken farmer, or hog farmer, or dairy, or
whatever, big money to do marginal, this is all marginal stuff, it's not mainstream
pollution protection in terms of you're responsible for your own pollution. This is
marginal protection. I don't go around badmouthing that, but I don't think that's
going to solve the problem over the long-term.
P: What about major pollution? Let's talk about the Fenholloway River. It seems to
me that I recall the state, at some point, allowed that to be an industrial river. Is
P: Then was it Buckeye [Technologies Inc.] cellulose that polluted the river?
W: I think it was Buckeye originally.
P: Why would the state allow a river like that to be so polluted?
W: I think that might have been before my time, but if you go back to the 1940s,
1950s, and 1960s, [the attitude] the state was on just the development mode. I
don't know that we knew or cared what happened to the Fenholloway River. This
was a big paper company promising jobs and economic development.
Sacrificing a little ol' trivial river that nobody even knew anything about or cared
about was not a big deal. That was easy. A lot of those kinds of decisions got
made back in the 1950s and 1960s. That was fairly common. In the 1950s and
1960s, you had the Soil Conservation Service and the Corp of Engineers going
great guns. They were channelizing every stream in the state. They were proud
of it. They were very highly regarded because the property owners whose land
got drained, it was an economic boom for them. When I went to work with the
state in 1971, one of the first things that made my eyes pop out was the Soil
Conservation Service with their small watershed program, digging ditches and
draining the swamps and marshes of all of central Florida. We put a stop to that.
We put the Soil Conservation Service out of business. By about 1980, they
weren't doing that anymore. The Corp of Engineers weren't doing what they
were doing anymore, either. That was the state clearinghouse that did that one.
P: They straightened out the Kissimmee River. Now they have to restore it.
W: The South Florida Water Management District has done a very good job.
P: If we could go back, to this period we're talking about the 1960s, most of the
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -8-
regulation was flood control. Some people even saw water as the enemy. This
is particularly more true of south Florida. Did you see it in that context?
W: No, I came from the University of Florida, George Cornwall's School of
Environmentalism. I was an original dye-in-the-wool environmentalist. It was
tremendously obnoxious to me when I got on the state scene and began to look
around. The Florida Department of Natural Resources, a lot of what they did was
promote and support the Corp of Engineers' channelization projects and
drainage projects because that was the state's attitude up until about 1970,
somewhere around there. It was quite a shock to the Corp of Engineers as well
as the Soil Conservation, USDA, when the state started saying, no, we don't
want any more of these projects and we're not going to let you do them anymore.
P: One thing I thought was interesting, Chapter 373, for the first time I believe,
declared that the water was owned by the state. Do you agree with that
W: Oh, absolutely.
P: Most people think about this as "my creek," it's on my property.
W: I agree totally. Water is a resource of the state.
P: Therefore, they can do whatever they want to, technically, to regulate that
W: Yeah, I think they can.
P: Would you say that the 1972 Act was the first attempt for any kind of state-wide
plan for water resources? Because now rivers and everything is included for the
W: You're right, I think that's correct.
P: This is a major shift in the attitude that we would find, in say the 1960s.
W: I think so.
P: How did the Water Resource Act get passed?
W: It was a tough, long haul. I think that the persuasions of the environmental
community as well as the strong legislative leadership by Dick Pettigrew and Bob
Graham as well as several other names that were very instrumental in that. Just
some real foresight in legislative leadership at that time.
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -9-
P: Part of that bill says that the idea is that the use of water should be both
reasonable and beneficial. What, in your mind, does that mean?
W: However you define that term, I think that to take water to maybe transport to
Canada or someplace else might be an unreasonable use. Reasonable, to me,
means something that either benefits a general area of business, agricultural or
public use. Beneficial, I haven't thought about those terms in a long time, but
beneficial is something that helps society somehow or the other. Although, it's
sometimes hard to define what isn't reasonable and beneficial.
P: Obviously if you pollute the Florida aquifer, it's not beneficial.
W: No, that's not a beneficial use.
P: Talk about your work with ELMS [Environmental Land and Management Study].
I believe you were one of the ones that wrote that bill or was at least responsible
W: I was involved with ELMS. That was Allen Millage, was I think the head of that
ELMS committee, which came up with the Land and Water Management Act.
Some of the main players, again, were Bob Graham and John DeGrove and
Allen Millage. The Comprehensive Planning Act of 1972 and the Water
Management Act and Chapter 380, the Land and Water Management Act were
all coming from the same mindset--let's look at the future and put some logical
mosaic to the state of Florida, both in terms of water and growth management
and planning. If you think about it conceptually, that was a brilliant idea. I think it
materialized to quite some degree. I was not eminently involved in ELMS even
though I was there and involved in the early implementation of it. I wrote the first
"area of critical state concern" report. We were going to declare part of Palm
Beach County, Royal Palm Beach general area. The C-51 basin is what it was.
The West Palm Beach Canal area was to be an area of critical state concern. I
did the leg work for that until I went down for a public meeting. I held a public
meeting down there and about 1000 people came up and just shouted me right
out of the building. We went back to the drawing board and decided we'd better
try to do it a different way.
P: Something like the Green Swamp, that was one of the earlier...
W: The Green Swamp? Yes.
P: This was implemented on sort of an evolutionary scale? Not too much in the
W: As I said, we tried on the Palm Beach Canal. The C-51 Canal. It didn't work.
We learned a lot in that. Then the Green Swamp and the Big Cypress, they were
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -10-
rural areas. You go into a rural area where you're not going to affect many
people and do something. You can't go into an urban area and say, you can't
water your lawn any more or drain this ditch, or developer, you can't develop this
lot over here. The Green Swamp is actually a swamp and your Big Cypress was
actually a swamp. It was a little easier to do it over in those areas.
P: What was the importance of requiring the first impact statements in terms of
W: What kind of impact statements?
P: The environmental impact statement, in terms of how that particular
development, whatever it was, would impact the environment.
W: Let's make sure we're talking about the same thing. There's the federally-
sanctioned environmental impact statement, that's federal law.
P: I'm talking about the state.
W: Oh, okay. I'm not sure what you're referring to, Julian, if you're talking about the
DRI Report, the development of regional impact.
P: Didn't ELMS require an environmental impact statement?
W: What they were requiring was a development of regional impact analysis. The
important thing with that is it required the perspective developer to think through
and document the present and future situation and account for accommodating
the impacts that they would have on water, roads, sewage, schools,
transportation, and the environment. It gave the state the ability to object or
appeal the required amendments. There were thresholds where if you had a
certain amount of units in a small county, it was less, and in a big county, if you
went to Dade County, you'd have more units and it'd be bigger. The perks of that
was just to require an analysis and accommodation of the impact that you had on
the various aspects and it gave the state the ability to appeal that and require
P: That's really just the first step toward any kind of growth management in the state
of Florida? On the state level, not federal.
W: Yes, that was probably one of the first. Even though one could argue that the
State Division Planning Comprehension Bureau, we did a state comprehensive
plan, which certainly confronted that. With a comprehensive plan, it had several
elements to it, environment land use, education, health, transportation. It was
pretty broad policy, but it got consummated into law. It had growth management
application and implication, but in creating the 380 area of critical state concern,
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -11-
they were more like tools. They were instruments to actually cause something to
happen. One way to look at it, you could say that Chapter 380 worked hand and
glove with Chapter 23 to actually implement some of the broader ideas and
P: Talk a little bit more about your relationship with the Army Corp of Engineers and
how you think they impacted the water management districts and particularly
comment on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.
W: I'd say until probably 1975 or 1976, the Corp of Engineers was probably more
instrumental in the general water management in the state from the sense of
navigation, drainage, irrigation, and flood control than the state was, because
basically the Corp of Engineers either had to approve it and most oftentimes
actually accomplish the work. The Corp of Engineers have always, and still do,
play a major role in water management in the state, but until water management
districts were created and were able to stand on their own two feet or five feet or
however many they've got, the Corp of Engineers was basically the agency.
The Cross-Florida Barge Canal was a long-standing project that goes
back to the 1800s, when it was first conceived as a sea level canal at the time,
and then it got converted I think around the 1940s, I might be wrong on the
dates, to the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. Actually, the Corp of Engineers in the
1950s and 1960s, I believe, and up to the 1970s, built the western and eastern
part of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. They created Lake Rosseau and Lake
Ocklawaha, which Rosseau being the west and Ocklawaha being the eastern
reservoir--[connects] the St. John's River connects with the Gulf of Mexico.
Mainly because of opposition from environmental interests in Florida and Florida
interest in general, President Richard Nixon stopped it by executive order, if I
recall and due to the efforts, I would give Marjorie Carr the great credit as being
an environmental hero for the state of Florida for trying to stop the Cross-Florida
[End of Tape A, Side 1.]
W: Buddy McKay, who was a Congressman at the time, really led the Congressional
effort to de-authorize the Cross-Florida Barge Canal with Marjorie Carr providing
the public impetus and a lot of the scientific basis for it.
P: How much environmental damage did the Cross-Florida Barge Canal do?
W: It destroyed the Ocklawaha River. I would say that it destroyed a major part of
the Ocklawaha River. Beyond that, I couldn't attest to [anything]. Even that's
debatable. You talk to people in Putnam County and they'll say, Lake
Ocklawaha is a great bass fishing lake. But, I think that there's no doubt that
Cross-Florida Barge Canal destroyed the Ocklawaha and downstream it to the
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -12-
St. John's River. That's a real loss. Probably a loss forever because we, in all
likelihood, won't be able to drain Lake Ocklawaha
P: One of the things that the water management districts have done, I think
increasingly over a period of time, is purchase land. They've got money from doc
stamps, and later on there's CARL and there's Preservation 2000. How have all
of those programs worked and how did the water management districts decide
what parcels of land to purchase?
W: The water management districts, I don't think that a substantial amount of the
land that they've purchased have been with ad valorem tax. Not much. It's
mostly been with documentary stamp tax proceeds that the state has provided
for them through CARL, Save Our Rivers program and Florida Forever, Save Our
Everglades program. They go through their own process. Each district goes
through their own process of prioritizing the land that they want to buy based on
their determined priorities for protecting a resource or developing a resource. I
don't have any reason to quibble with that. I think they've done a pretty good job
in buying good land.
That's all been a gift to the water management districts by the state. The
water management districts were supposed to, by the Water Resources Act of
1972, protect and manage the water resources used through ad valorem taxes.
What you find is no water management district board wants to raise ad valorem
taxes. Particularly a Republican water management district board won't raise ad
valorem taxes. They come begging to the state to fund their programs and what
you find is the state funding more and more water management programs
because they don't want to raise ad valorem taxes. Yet, my ad valorem taxes
and my local taxes will get raised because the state is putting this money in the
water management districts and not in the local government. We're all paying for
it one way or another. It's just shifting the shells on the table.
P: Should they raise ad valorem taxes?
W: Personally, I think that's what ad valorem taxes were for. I think the people in the
districts, that was part of the idea of this geography, that the districts and the
people of the district pay for their water management. That hardly happens when
the people of the state are paying for the water management district.
P: In fact, at one time, the Suwannee River reduced its ad valorem tax from three
mills to two mills.
W: Yes, the state is supplementing them at the same time. The northwest is paying
.05 mill and the state supplements them every year. Every year, when I was
working for the governor, I would recommend against that. Every year it got
approved. That's how effective Whitfield was. [Laughter]
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -13-
P: One of the things that happened in 1988, and I don't know how much you had to
do with this, you might remember that Dexter Lehtinen sued the water
management districts and argued that they were violating the state water
standards. Of course, that had a major impact later on. Did you think that was a
frivolous lawsuit or did it have some merit?
W: I think the lawsuit had merit, but I think it was a completely political move by
Dexter Lehtinen. Dexter was the U.S. Attorney. Dexter, prior to that, when he
was in the Florida Legislature, I was there, and I never detected any
environmental interest whatsoever in Dexter Lehtinen. As U.S. Attorney, I think
that Dexter was catering to his future clients, the Miccosukee tribe, and to the
environmental community and got persuaded by those interests to file suit, which
I thought, and still do, was destructive to what we were trying to do at the time
and didn't further the cause. I still don't think it furthered the cause. What it did
was create tremendous acrimony and turmoil among what previously had been
somewhat allies, that being the public agencies, the state, and the environmental
P: Some people argue that because of the cost of the legal ramifications it delayed
W: I think it did. It put it into gridlock for about six years. It was actually gridlocked
until Lawton Chiles got elected governor and made his famous, "I surrender the
sword" speech. When Chiles surrendered the sword, then we went into a further
tailspin of what are we going to do now? You can argue, a lot of people will
argue, that the lawsuit caused the creation of the Storm Water Treatment areas.
Maybe it did. I would argue that had we not been delayed for six, eight, or ten
years with this lawsuit and the ramifications of it, we'd probably be further ahead
than that by now, because I thought we were making pretty good progress. I
criticize Dexter and I criticize the environmental community because for years the
Save Our Everglades program, which was initiated by Bob Graham, made good
progress. I criticized them because it's a "pac-man" concept. You gave me that
bite and now my mouth is back open. It snaps open and closed so fast that if
you don't give them some instant gratification on a weekly basis, then they're
dissatisfied and go out and sue you because you didn't give me my bite this day.
I think that it's just a characteristic of a lot of the environmental community, and
The environmental community deserves a tremendous amount of credit
for getting us to where we are. They've been as instrumental in water
management in the state of Florida as the water management districts have.
They deserve a lot of credit. On the other hand, this "I don't trust you if you're in
government and we want to sue you and we want to punish you and criticize you
at every move," that assumes that government isn't doing anything. State
government and the South Florida Water Management District were trying harder
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -14-
than the environmentalists at the time we got sued, and I always resented that.
P: Talk a little bit about the environmental movement. Obviously, after you came to
state government, they got a lot more influential. One of the things I've learned is
that they don't always agree on these issues. The Audubon Society may have
one view and 1000 Friends of Florida may have a different view. Have they
been, to some degree, not as united as they might have been?
W: Absolutely. This is not tooting my horn, but I've been out of government for over
five years and I can look back with a different set of glasses than I used to look
at. I thought about this. My main objective in the last ten or fifteen years in the
state, my main objective was to try to be objective, to look at things objectively
and not go off on a side road or tangent just based on talking to one person.
What led up to Save Our Everglades program was a major conservation effort by
the Florida Wildlife Federation led by Johnny Jones, influenced by Art Marshall,
there was Charles Lee. Charles Lee was young at the time, [and] was with the
Audubon Society. Then there was the Sierra Club at the time. They were the
main organization, along with the Audubon and the Wildlife Federation. They
touched a lot of the other grassroots organizations. When Graham kicked off the
Save Our Everglades program in 1983, it was with their blessing. They were
right behind us because it was to restore the Kissimmee, rectify the drainage
problems in the Everglades, restore Everglades National Park, a lot of good
features, and they loved it. Graham went to Washington in 1983 or 1984 and
met with all the national conservation organizations, all the major conservation
organizations. I went with him and took big maps. We made presentations on
[the] Save Everglades Program. The Florida organizations came to that
presentation, four or five of them. Charles Lee was instrumental in that. It was
the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Sierra, the National
Wildlife Federation. About fifteen of those organizations. They decided on that
day while we sat there in the National Parks Conservation Association
conference room in Washington D. C., to form the Everglades Coalition. I was
almost like a one-man staff for the governor, even though I had a few people
working for me. We cultivated and worked that Save the Everglades program
very carefully. I don't mean to overemphasize the Save the Everglades program,
but that was the big deal. That was the thing in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987,
1988, on to now. Because the current program, the Comprehensive Everglades
Restoration Program, all that evolved from Graham's 1983 Save the Everglades
The environmental organizations were ecstatic. We got national press
coverage; Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, all of
that. Those environmentalists were getting quoted in the newspapers and the
magazines. It was the ultimate heyday in my opinion of environmentalism in
Florida, was about 1984 through about 1988 or 1987. We were in Lockstep. I
and my secretary set up the first Everglades Coalition Conference in 1986 in Port
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -15-
of the Islands. I set up the next one, myself, making the phone calls and
organizing the events and sending out the invitations and inviting speakers. I did
the first three personally and then I turned it over. I said, hey, and the
Everglades Coalition had gotten organized at the time and said, you guys need
to take this over and handle this, which they have done since then.
When Dexter filed his lawsuit, it was kind of like Humpty Dumpty fell off
the fence and he broke open. There was this great dissent between the
environmental folks and the government, but that's not all. The environmental
organizations began to argue among themselves, and by that time, about 1990,
they were arguing with themselves. You take the Everglades Forever Act.
Nobody could agree on that. That was pretty clear-cut, good motherhood apple-
pie legislation, and they fought it tooth-and-nail. One of the strongest
environmental advocates the state's ever known, David Guest, got blackballed
basically from the environmental community because he was the negotiator. I
actually agreed to that legislation.
P: Was this a fight for influence and power?
W: Mostly. Most of what I found, Julian, and don't get me wrong, I'm an
environmentalist. I came here as one and I always was one, and I know these
people. I spent time with them, camped out with them, this, that, and the other.
The environmentalists, yes, it's a fight for power. It's a fight for publicity. Who's
in charge, who is going to get the last word, who is going to be looked up to?
P: They got a taste of national publicity, you think they decided they wanted to
expand on that?
W: I wouldn't say it was that so much. It was just a natural human characteristic. If
you came into politics, the environmentalists turned into politicians. The politician
wants nothing more than his name. It's a human characteristic, not just political.
People want to rise above. The environmentalists are no different from wanting
to rise above, except they act with a little bitterness. They use a little lime juice in
their breakfast food to make sure there's some bitterness.
P: Sometimes they offended both the public and politicians with that kind of attitude.
W: Take a look at the last five legislative sessions. The environmentalists have had
no influence at all with the Republican legislature that's been here for the last five
or six years. No influence. They didn't influence a single bill that I know of last
year, the year before, the year before, the year before. You can't stick your
finger in somebody's eye and make them smile and like you.
P: Let me go back to a couple of things that you mentioned earlier. How successful
were the programs, Save Our Rivers and Save Our Coasts?
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -16-
W: They were very successful, in the sense that both of them provided money. The
Save Our Rivers program is still here. It's documentary stamp taxes, that's one
of the main water management land acquisition programs. Save Our Coast was
a little different. Look at Grayton Beach State Park and Henderson Beach State
Park in Ft. Walton or Destin, Guana River State Park. I think Guana was bought
with Save Our Coast money. Some of the best coastal land in the state of
Florida that today would be worth literally billions. I mean you pick up a handful
of sand and it'll cost you a dollar, were bought with the Save Our Coast program,
back when you could still by property at a reasonable price, 800 acres for
eighteen million dollars, which would probably be worth a billion right now. The
South Walton County, those sugar sand dunes and Henderson Beach right there
in Destin. Beach front, beautiful.
I can't say enough about that. The philosophy behind the Save Our
Rivers Preservation 2000, CARL, and Save Our Coast was this; if you go back in
the late 1960s and 1970s, when the state was creating the Pollution Control Act
and Chapter 380 and water management districts, all of those regulatory
programs, the philosophy was that we would just regulate. That was part of the
concept of the state comprehensive plan of Chapter 380, the DRI and critical
area process was regulatory. That didn't set well with the regulated community.
It wasn't so much the agriculture, it was the business community. Florida was in
a development boom. 1200 people a day come into Florida. All those statistics
that people throw at you. Those business interests, they are all powerful
because they've got the money. They've got the money and money talks. No
matter what you say, money talks. In a lot of different ways it talks. It became
obvious that we weren't going to be able to protect the environment with
regulatory programs because the regulations were getting watered down. I hope
you interview Wade Hopping and Bob Rhodes and a few people like that in this
oral history because they probably had as much to do with water management in
the state of Florida as Henry Dean, and Fran Nella, and Auley Rowell, and me.
P: Let's point out that Wade Hopping was one of the key lobbyists, a very powerful
lobbyist who represented generally big business interest. He would help shake
W: Yes. And Bob Rhodes, who is now vice president of St. Joe's corporation. He
and Wade Hopping were the two preeminent lobbyists back in the 1980s for the
business community. If either one of them got off and winked or nodded, you'd
see the whole committee respond. It was very interesting to watch the dynamics
of those two work. There are a lot more of the--Larry Curtin and Larry Sullers are
guys who were certainly involved in this. We finally realized that we can't protect
the land, the sensitive environmental areas, by regulation. You take a bald
eagle, or a Florida panther, or a bear, even if you regulate, somebody has some
right to use their land. Some of these species of animals that we're trying to
protect [way back when] can't coexist even in a carefully planned and regulated
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -17-
community. It became very obvious; we need to buy a lot of those habitats, or
rivers and coasts and wetlands, and that was the intent in Save Our Coast, Save
Our Rivers, CARL, Preservation 2000, and Florida Forever.
P: All conservation?
W: Yeah. It was to buy the land to protect it in lieu of staunch regulation all over the
P: Let me ask you about some individuals and ask if you could sort of evaluate their
contributions or influences on water management districts. What about John
W: I think John had a lot of philosophical influence because he was an academic
advocate for planning and environmental protection. John actually served on the
South Florida Water Management District. I would say that John had some
influence. I wouldn't put him in a hero category or anything like that, but John
was always a well-intended, articulate, and forceful voice for land-use planning
and good water management.
P: Art Marshall?
W: Art was influential. Art's almost like, I don't know if folk hero is the right word, but
Art was one of the first big advocates of restoring the Everglades. He had his
plan for restoring the Everglades, which finally got to be called a Marshall Plan.
That did influence Bob Graham's Save Our Everglades Program. We read it and
tried to incorporate it because Art was a smart guy, a scientist, and well-intended.
I'd give Art some stars.
P: Earl Starnes?
W: I'd give Earl some stars, too, because Earl was really the architect of state
planning. The division of state planning, he was the first director of state
planning, and Earl being an architect and having worked in transportation, and
Earl was academic and above the fray. He really brought planning great
distances in Florida.
P: Plus, he was on the Suwannee River Board for many years.
W: Yes, Earl was on the Suwannee Board. I look at Earl before that. Earl had more
influence before sitting on that water management board. There are very few
individual board members that I think had a great deal of influence on water
P: Talk about some of the heads of DER and DEP, say Jake Varn, Vickie Tschinkel.
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -18-
Did you work closely with them and how would you assess their performance?
W: DER and DEP, I would say that Jay Landers, Jake Varn, and Vickie, they really
all brought the agency forward and the state environmental protection programs
forward extensively. I thought they did wonderful jobs, all of them. All of them
had different personalities and a little different style, but I thought all of them did
equally great jobs in moving forward in environmental protection.
P: How much influence did they have over the water management districts in terms
W: Not much. All the DER or DEP secretaries have wanted to supervise the water
management districts. Until Jeb Bush came into office, that was not the case.
Governors in the past, prior to Bush, always wanted the water management
districts to have some autonomy, although they appointed the board members.
Those governors didn't want the state DEP managing the water management
districts because they wanted them to have quite a bit of autonomy. Until Jeb
Bush came, and I guess David Strahs and Collen Castelle, the DEP had limited
influence over the water management districts. That's not the case since Bush
came in. Water management districts are pretty subservient to the governor's
office and DEP.
P: Then you get politics in the equation.
P: Talk about each governor you advised on environmental issues and rate them,
starting with Askew [Reubin O. Askew (D) Florida governor 1971-1979]. When
I say environmental issues, I'm still talking primarily about water management
W: I didn't work directly with Askew. I worked with his administration, but I was low
enough, three or four rungs down that I can rate him; he did a good job with
environmental issues. Askew is a very strong, stern, serious guy. He set up an
Everglades, south Florida conference and panel that did some good work that
Jay Landers was involved with at the time.
P: That was the 1971 meeting?
P: With Art Marshall and all of them?
W: Yes. That had some influence on future things that happened in the Everglades,
although nothing particular ever evolved directly out of it. Askew was very
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -19-
supportive of logical objective environmental decisions. In a couple of occasions,
he supported things that I was doing in the state clearing-house that the state
Department of Transportation absolutely went apoplectic over. I mentioned the
Corp of Engineers, the Soil Conservation Service. We changed them, basically,
during part of the Askew administration. When the Soil Conservation Service
and Corp of Engineers, the Soil Conservation Service got put out of business in
Florida and the Corp of Engineers started getting turned around, so Askew was
P: You've talked quite a bit about Graham and we sort of understand him. How
would you rate Martinez [Bob Martinez (R) Florida governor, 1987-1991]?
W: You know how I'd rate Graham five stars, five out of five. I'd rate Bob Martinez
very high. Bob Martinez was a genuinely nice guy, not that Graham and Askew
weren't nice guys, but Bob Martinez was a more personable guy, easy to talk to.
Bob Graham, I've got to go back to him a little bit. Bob Graham always reminded
me of an astronomer and a microbiologist all built into one. He could look at the
stars and he could look at the bacteria, one on each eye. Graham was extremely
inquisitive and one of the smartest people I've ever dealt with. What we did with
the Everglades wasn't just his staff coming up with stuff and him stamping it, he
was thinking up most of the stuff himself with the staff recording it. Bob Martinez
didn't project himself into the issues nearly to the degree that Bob Graham did.
Martinez trusted and let staff do it more. I never saw Martinez and never
experienced the case where I thought he made a bad environmental decision or
overruled or said, "no, we don't want to do that for this, that, or the other." I
thought Martinez was good. He was not given credit by the environmental
community. Probably because that famous lawsuit happened on his watch and
that was very unfortunate.
P: What about Lawton Chiles [(D) Florida governor, 1991-1998]?
W: Historically I knew Lawton Chiles for a long time before he became the governor.
I credit the Big Cypress Swamp Protection and a lot of the good things that
happened with the state, some of the barge canal stuff, and so forth, with Lawton
Chiles. I think Lawton Chiles cared about the environment. On the other hand, I
didn't think the environment was one of his top priorities. His priorities were
human services, and healthcare, and anti-smoking, and social-type services. He
didn't slight the environment, he just didn't show the passion that Graham
showed or the willingness to engage that Martinez showed, in my opinion.
P: What about Jeb Bush [ (R) Florida governor, 1999-present]?
W: I only worked for Jeb Bush through the transition, which was from about
November to January and then to April 1, my last day. I dealt with him during
that period. I think that Jeb, like most other political people, he came to
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -20-
recognize that if you aren't an environmental governor, you're not going to do
well. Particularly if you don't swear to do everything that you can to keep oil and
gas drilling off the coast and save the Everglades, then you're not going to do
well at all. I believe that he came to realize those two things since he was
governor and has been supportive of the environment in a general sense.
P: As you said earlier, he politicized the water management districts.
W: I think the water management districts have gotten greatly politicized in the last
P: Let me go back and ask you to comment on SWIM, the Surface Water
Improvement and Management Act. I think you had something to do with
drawing up that legislation.
W: Yes. SWIM was really intended, in my opinion, as the water management
district's basic plan for protecting wetlands and water resources. SWIM, now,
has gotten kind of muddled up with all this other water management district
planning, and if you ever want to get into a complicated issue that's beyond
comprehension, ask water management districts to give you a thorough synopsis
of water management district planning. If that doesn't confuse you, I don't know
what will. SWIM was intended to be comprehensive plans for each water
management district for protecting water resources in the area. In summary, I
think that SWIM has worked to some degree. Anything that causes the masses
of employees in the water management district to focus their thinking on
something that is supposedly beneficial to water resources is good. I can
remember the time when the water management districts were just kind of sitting
there saying, "well, we're going to go fix this pump and go out here and dig this
ditch." If you read SWIM and the intent of it, it's a great law. The effectiveness of
it, I couldn't say that it's been tremendously effective, but it's been good.
P: Was one of the key issues dealing with runoff?
W: Yes, runoff was one of them, and land acquisition was one, and regulatory was
one, the channelization and land use and so forth.
P: When you have a gas station that pumps a lot of gas and they don't have a
retention pond, then the water management districts would come in and say, this
needs to be changed.
W: They wouldn't be able to do that, I don't think. What they would be able to do, is
within their regulatory authority, if there's something that's occurring within the
district that is under their regulatory authority, maybe it might be a filling station, if
it's a new one being planned. The water management districts can't drive down
the streets [like a police force].
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -21-
P: They could deny them a permit, right?
W: Yes, if they're applying for a permit. If they're required to get a permit and are
applying for a permit and that filling station had a runoff that would directly go into
a water body, they could just say no. They could say no, or you can put in this
retention basin. They've done some good work. On the lines of SWIM, SWIM is
supposed to help identify where those permits are required, or not, and what the
permits ought to require.
P: How about dealing with building on flood plains? Have they done a pretty good
job of that?
W: In some cases. Not in all cases. The water management districts, through some
of their own initiatives and some legislative initiatives, dealing with mitigation,
mitigation banks and mitigation. Basically, if a guy is willing to pay the price,
either in dollars or in land, he can build pretty much wherever he wants to. If he's
willing to give them enough treasure to satisfy them somewhere else.
P: Do those wetlands banks work?
W: I don't know. I think you can probably find a couple of cases where they work.
That was more of an economic derived thing by creative developers than it was
an environmental idea or an environmental benefit. I never thought they were all
that good compared to what's happening on the other side of the equation.
P: I think we see in New Orleans and other places like that, that it seems absolutely
insane to allow people to keep rebuilding and the federal government insures
them and lets them build again. It just doesn't make any sense.
W: If you look at our coastal protection laws, those things got eroded away during
this same period basically in the 1990s. You can go down here to Panama City,
Destin, and find those buildings up on the dunes, a hurricane comes through,
that's what happened in Pensacola, all along the coast. Those places have no
business there. Certainly the taxpayers have no business supporting them.
P: If they want to build them there, it's up to them. The state shouldn't have to pay
for hurricane damage.
W: We paid for the rebuilding of Panama City probably three or four times.
P: And putting sand back on the beach.
P: You think that's not going to erode?
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -22-
W: I know.
P: If Panama City wants to pay to put it out there, that should not be their business,
P: One of the things I wanted to talk about and get your view on this, I understand
you were sort of a liaison with the water management districts as a whole. What
did that encompass? Did you advise them, talk about budgets, help them get
W: As the governor's environmental policy coordinator, and you brought up this
subject a minute ago, the DEP wanted to regulate or supervise the water
management districts, and they did. The water management districts never felt
or desired to be supervised by the Department of Environmental Protection.
They wanted to be supervised by the governor. That brought me into the picture
because I was the governor's environmental person. They would come to me to
complain, beg, cry, gripe, or whatever it is they wanted to connect with the
governors' office for, I was that connection.
On the other hand, if the governor wanted something from the water
management districts, wanted them to move in one direction or another or
wanted something from them, he would ask me to find it out for him. It was pretty
day-to-day stuff. If you're dealing with trying to protect the Suwannee River or
somebody has a concern with Suwannee River or the Corp of Engineers is trying
to build dams on the Apalachicola River or the Chattahoochee River, or we're
trying to restore the Everglades, I'm going to worry about that.
[End of Tape A, Side 2.]
W: They would come to me to just interact, relative to what the governor or the
governor's office either could do for them or they could do for us. I don't mean to
say or imply that if the secretary of the DEP wanted something from the water
management district that he or she wouldn't get it. By and large, the water
management districts did not want to take direction from DEP. They wanted to
take direction from the governor. Me being the governor's environmental water
management person, that was largely my role. In 1997, the legislature passed a
law which basically the governor's office wrote, which gave the governor budget
oversight over the water management districts, and that brought them even
closer to us because if the governor approved their budget, then that's the
ultimate authority, budget authority. We didn't do that to gain control over the
water management districts. We weren't even interested in that. That 1997 bill
that gave the governor's office budgeting authority over the water management
districts was the alternative to the legislation taking over the budget authority. I
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -23-
fought tooth and nail to save the water management districts from that curse. In
my mind, that would have been the end of any objective water management in
the state. It would be all politics just like the university system is now.
P: Did you advise them on budgets and help them if they needed? If they had a
really good idea or plan you would support them?
W: Sure. I would tell them what the governor's priorities were and what he thought
was important, and if we thought they were off target a little bit on one of their
proposals, [we would tell them]. I knew these water management district people
personally. I don't mean personally in the wrong sense, but I knew them very
well. It was real easy for me to call them up and for them to call me up because
they were always visiting my office. I was in [the] South Florida Water
Management District so often trying to get the Everglades program up and
running and functioning that I knew the people really well. It was not like it was
command and control. It was more of a coordinative function.
P: What about water wars? What do you think is going to happen, and is it a
violation of the whole concept of the water management districts if they take
water from one district and give it to the another district?
W: I never advocated that because of the political and growth management
ramifications. From an environmental point of view, a water resource point of
view, I never thought that was proper, that you just transport water from one end
of the state to the other. I don't think the way it's happened in California and out
west has been particularly successful. I don't think it's a good environmental
thing to do to move water from one place to another. The place that's giving up
the water is changing and the place that's getting the water is changing, and not
necessarily for the best. The political and growth management issues that that
creates are equally confounding. That being, that if a place giving up the water
becomes the next popular growth management hot spot like Mexico Beach or
some unknown place last year is now the hot spot, they're screwed. They're not
going to be happy about it and they're going to want their water back and they
can't get it back because they gave it up by contractual arrangement. I think that
if you project growth in Florida, fifty years is not all that long. Go out fifty years
and Union County and Bradford County might be the most popular places in the
state to live, and it might be because they're not hurricane prone. The climate's
just as good, the land is high and dry and protected, but they don't get the
hurricanes there and that might just be the place to be. Their water is transferred
to Flagler County or Tampa or who knows where. If you'd asked me this twenty
years ago I'd have just given you an environmental answer but now I'll give you a
different kind of answer.
P: One of the changes would be to the watershed, right?
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -24-
W: Oh, absolutely. One of the changes was to the watershed. That's the
environmental answer. If you're transporting whatever amount of water to
somewhere else, that other place is getting it and you're losing it.
P: One of the issues that comes up early on in the beginning, is that water
management districts didn't really do much water quality. Then over a period of
time, that has changed to some degree. When did that change take place and
should water management districts be concerned with the water quality? Should
it be DER or DEP?
W: We talked about it a little earlier; in the 1980s, when the state began to try to
clamp down on dredge-and-fill and water quality and so forth, both the business
community and the agricultural community said, "whoa, whoa, whoa, we want the
water management district to do this." Along came Wade Hopping, all these
dynamics came in. Then you see the legislature moving the responsibility to the
water management districts. This was not a benevolent type decision to do
what's best for the water resources. It was to get DEP out of our face and let
water management districts do it because we think we can deal with them a little
bit easier. So that's the way this occurred.
P: It seems to me logical that they would do both.
W: Yes, I don't have any problem with that. That doesn't bother me at all, but that's
the way it evolved.
P: Do you think that big business have been in control of the water management
W: Not entirely. That was the impetus behind the bill I was referring to. In 1997, it
was, I think, Chapter 715 or House Bill 715, that's what the debate was all about.
In 1995 and 1996 and 1997, it was to emasculate the water management
districts because they were being too tough on us.
P: That didn't really ultimately happen.
W: No, it didn't happen, because the governor's office and Lawton Chiles and the
governor said, we won't let that happen. It's not going to happen.
P: When you look at the early water management districts, say 1973 to 1980, the
early years, what would be the greatest strengths of the early ones and the
greatest weaknesses of the early ones?
W: The South Florida Water Management District always was, and still is, the
strongest water management district. They held their own through thick and thin.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has always been on broad
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -25-
with the water wars issue of trying to supply St. Petersburg, who has no water,
with the water from Pasco County. I'm not sure I can answer your question as
you posed it.
P: Let me restate it then. Some people would argue that one of the advantages of
these water management districts in the beginning is the reason that they were
regional, that they had basically independent lay boards, and to some degree, at
least in the beginning in particular, independent. I guess, to a degree, there were
also problems with each of these boards. One, they lacked knowledge and
experience. In the beginning, they didn't have rules or regulations and it took
them a while to sort of figure out what they were supposed to do. Would you
agree with those assessments?
W: Yeah. Without some kind of specific direction, which early on was pretty slight,
early on I'm saying from 1972 until sometime in the 1980s, the water
management district boards basically were just kind of sitting there to say to the
staff, I think that's a good idea or not a good idea. As the water management
district whole ball of wax congealed a little bit and some of the state laws that
later on came, which I mentioned this 1997 law. There were a couple before and
since. It gives water management district boards of all the districts and the
boards a little more foundation to build on. SWIM, for example. Water
management districts [are] an evolving process, and I think they've come a long
P: If you look at the boards, do you think term limits and financial disclosure is a
good idea, and how would the Sunshine Law have effected the operations of the
W: I think term limits is a good idea. Eight years is enough, I think. I think it's an
eight year limit now. Financial disclosure is certainly important.
P: A lot of people have refused to serve on the board rather than give that
W: I'm not sure if it's important if a person discloses how much money they make,
but I think they should disclose where they're getting their money from. If
somebody's not willing to disclose what might be a potential conflict of interest,
then they shouldn't be on the board. What was the other one?
P: The Sunshine Law.
W: The Sunshine Law does apply, and it should apply. These smokey room deals
shouldn't be occurring.
P: I've talked to a lot of people and while they don't break the law in terms of public
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meetings, occasionally they'll go to the bathroom and have a little discussion or
talk to somebody on the phone. Are you upset with what they would call, minor
infractions in the law? It seems to me the law is pretty clear that all discussion
has to be in public.
W: Personally, I don't think that you could ever pass a law that could prevent two
people from calling one another up and talking about an issue. That's just not
going to happen. The Sunshine Law, in the greatest technical sense, is violated
every day. There comes a point of being practical and sensible about it. I just
think the decisions and discussions by water management districts, or any other
public agency, should be done publically.
P: I think, from what I understand, is that all the decisions and the votes and the
discussions were public. When you come right down they have to make those
decisions in the public. I think that's the essence of what they're trying to do.
P: What about conservation of water? Have the water management districts
worked enough on that concept? Should they be more aggressive in educating
the public about water conservation, low-flow toilets, that sort of thing?
W: Let me start to answer this like this; if you go to Deerfield Beach, or Destin, or
Hollywood, or Tallahassee, or Ft. Walton, and stop any ten people, you pick them
out of the best part of town or the worst part of town, and say, what do you know
about the water management district? The Northwest, the Suwannee, the South,
and I guarantee the answer you'll get ninety-nine out of one hundred times is
what? What is that? I've never heard of that outfit. I've never even heard of it.
That's the biggest problem the water management districts have. They run
around, bouncing off the wall responding to the legislature and the governor and
DEP and some special interest, the agricultural interests, and the business
interests that are banging on their door, and that's what they do. Their contact
with the general public is absolutely nil. It is nonexistent. If water management
districts read this interview, they'll be calling me up and beating my brains out,
which that's okay, but they've done an absolutely atrocious job ever since day
one up until this day in educating the public and contacting the public on what
they do. Go ask anybody what the electric company is or the telephone
company or Comcast or sewer and water, and they know. But the outfit that's
probably more important to them and they don't even know the name of the
South Florida Water Management District or Suwannee River Water
P: Is that deliberate?
W: No, it's not deliberate. It's just that they don't know how to do it. As I said,
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they're spending all their time preparing for a governing board meeting and the
governing board members, most of them are preparing for how can I make this to
my advantage and the executive director is worried about what the chairman of
the board is going to do, and what the governor is going to do, and what the
legislature is going to do, and they've got their little public access and public
outreach program, but they don't mean beans, because it's not built into the guts
of the outfit.
P: You think it should be?
W: Absolutely. Everybody should know who their water management district is.
They should either have some opinion of their water management, what I'm
saying, is ninety-nine point nine out of a hundred don't even know what the name
P: Or what they do.
W: Not what they do, but what is it? What's that thing you're talking about? I've
never heard of that outfit.
P: A lot of people I talk to say that water is the most important issue in the state of
Florida. Would you agree with that?
W: Absolutely. Well, I can't compare water to education or crime, but in the physical
environment, absolutely. If you say environmentalism in Florida, you're talking
about water. If you're saying geography in Florida you're talking about water. If
you're talking about water, you're talking about water. [If you're talking about
water management] you're talking about water. Absolutely.
P: What do you think water management districts ought to be doing? What should
their goals be for the next twenty-five years?
W: That's a question I haven't really thought too much about. They should be
projecting the growth of Florida, translating that into demands for water,
determining how they're going to provide the water, but at the same time protect
Florida as we know it and keep Florida as we know it. I think that equal to that,
they should be explaining to people and figuring out some kind of creative way of
getting to the public, I'm not talking about special interests, the main people in
the state to be connected. The government understands the importance of the
water management districts. Big business and agriculture understands the
importance of water management. You can see Wall Street blipping a little bit.
Wall Street's probably blipping from the water wars down in Tampa. Wall Street
and the whole country will get intense if some situation like that occurs. The set
of people that influence water management is around one thousand. That's one
thousand out of the fifteen or eighteen million that we have that call the shots on
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -28-
water management. 900 of those are special interest. The other hundred are
some well-intended environmental organizations and the government, which are
also influenced by special interests. The rest of the populace of this state doesn't
have a clue as to what's going on.
P: Is there going to be a water shortage in the near future?
W: I don't know about that. There could be.
P: What would the solution be, would it be desalinization, would it be stronger
conservation? We could do like gasoline, we could start charging for it. That
might reduce usage. You know we waste water.
W: Martinez tried to put a little water user fee, and that got blown out of the water.
Nobody wants to do that. The special interests killed that, agriculture mostly, but
nobody wants to increase the taxes. The ad valorem tax payers, the general
public subsidizes programs with the general revenue taxes. It's going to be
some alternative. Bush has a very good bill passed this year that does put a lot
of money, and again it's public money, into alternative water supply projects, and
that's good. It should be a combination of regulation, probably some user fees
and some alternative supplies. I don't how they could have [gotten] a variety of
things that work, not too much of one but not too little of another.
P: Will desalinization work?
W: Yes, it works. It's very expensive. The people that are drinking that desalinated
water should be paying for most of the cost of that project. That's the philosophy
that 1997 bill, and I think it's still the philosophy, by law, that the public should
pay for water resource projects, like protecting the well fields and the aquifers
and maybe do a large project. For water supply projects, like either
desalinization or well fields, it should be the beneficiaries. Whoever is getting the
benefit [should be paying for it]. I think that's a good philosophy. That's shared
with the philosophy with this law this past year, I think it's called Senate Bill 444,
it puts 100 or 200 million dollars of state money, distributed to the water
management districts for these alternative water supply projects, but it requires
matching by whoever is sponsoring the project.
P: Do you think the concept of underground aquifers to store water will be
W: I don't know about that. I think that is one of the big fallacies of the Everglades
Restoration program. This aquifer storage and recovery, I think it works all of a
limited degree, but the Everglades Restoration Program, the C-E-R-P program,
we call it, Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, depends on literally
billions of gallons of water to supply the Everglades region to come from [this]
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -29-
underground storage. It may work, but it's like saying, we're going to send a
rocket ship to Mars. Go ahead, send a rocket ship to Mars, but don't make my
future depend on that rocket ship getting there and don't make my future depend
on these aquifer storage recovery areas working.
P: One of the criticisms that several people have of the water management districts
is that they don't pay enough attention to hard science. Was that, in your
experience, a failure of the districts?
W: I don't think so. I think the water management districts have as good scientists
as anybody has. That sounds like the sugar industry talking or Jim Garner
representing the sugar industry or some big agribusiness advocate talking, and I
don't buy that. I think the water management districts have as good of science
as there exists.
P: Is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you would like to bring up
and talk about? There are lots of possible questions, but I think I've covered the
major issues. There may be some things that I didn't think about that you'd like
to talk about.
W: There are just a couple things I think I'd like to mention. This oral history was
certainly sponsored by the water management districts, and I appreciate that.
The history of water management in Florida and the water management district's
role in water management in Florida is considerably less than ninety percent of
what has influenced water management in Florida. There's the Florida
legislature, the business community, the agricultural community, the
environmental community and things they've done, and in most cases, are more
significant than what the water management districts have done. The water
management districts and their employees and board members and a few
bureaucrats such as me, were little instruments in trying to carry out some
greater scheme, some unintended greater scheme that was influenced by these
aforementioned people and the interplay of that aspect to society. It's not like
some board member somewhere in the water management district or all of them
together, had a heck of a lot to do with all of this. They were reacting to
something pushed on them by somebody, and I would say that between the
business and development community, ably represented by some tremendous
lawyers, mostly in Tallahassee, but scattered around the state, are ever growing
and influential. The agricultural community, who if we're not careful, is going to
be running the water management system in the state in a few years, and then
the environmental community, who today, has very little influence, but several
years ago, were the driving force, shaped water management in Florida. That's
my concluding remark.
I would like to say, we talked about individuals who were influential in
water management, and we talked about, I've always thought that by and large,
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -30-
and I've been critical of water management district boards oftentimes for being
led around by their staff and told basically what to do or given choices by the
staff. That's been the case in most instances. When Governor Bush appointed
the new South Florida Water Management District back when he came into office
in 1999, he put a few people on that board, and one of them named Mike Collins.
Mike Collins is an unusual board member of the water management district. If
you ask the current staff in confidence or any of the previous staff in confidence,
they will say he's the devil reincarnated. If you ask the agricultural community,
they will probably say he's the devil reincarnated. Mike Collins is a classic
example of what, in my opinion, a water management board member should be
to get in there, shake things up, assert some authority, tell the staff what you
want them to do, and don't give me a lot of lip service about it, just give me what I
want to do.
P: Of course, he's extremely knowledgeable about water management.
W: Absolutely. My hat's off to Mike Collins, because over the years, I don't think I've
ever seen a board member influence a water management district board and the
water management board for the better like Mike Collins. For that, he'll be taken
hits and stabs for the next many, many years, but if you look at all of that in the
broader context, what Mike Collins did for that South Florida Water Management
District board and the water management district has been phenomenal.
P: In spite of the influence of these agricultural, business, and environmental
interests, doesn't that sometimes wash out and could you argue that in spite of
those influences, the water management district has done a pretty good job?
W: Yes, I guess my concluding remark is that I've always been an advocate of water
management districts. I think the concept of water management districts is a
good one. Their role and responsibilities is a good set. I think they've done a
good job. On a specific interview, you tend to go down the pig trails and I've said
some critical things, which I will stand behind. But water management districts
have done a good job in the state. We're not in crisis now and we've made it
through some. The water management districts have helped us get through
them, or in many cases, singularly brought us through. Water management
districts have done a good job. There's some improvements that could be made
and there are some criticisms to be left a long way. I have been, and always will
be, 1997, you guys in the water management district, whether you know it or not,
was your best ally there. Or else John Laurent and Ken Pruitt would have you
eating out of the legislative trough right now. Water management district is a
P: Just like all institutions, they could do better.
W: Sure. Everybody could do better. Without it, I would hate to think what the state
FWM-15, Whitfield, Page -31-
would look like physically.
P: On that note we'll end. Thanks very much.
[End of Interview.]