The Institution Of Water Management
Editor's note: Henry Dean's guest column is a
condensed version of remarks he delivered to an
audience of water management district board
members and staff at the Interamerican Dialogue
on Water Management held in Miami in October.
By HENRY DEAN
ExecuUve Dkrecto. St. Johns Rlve Water Management Dsthlcl
Today, I want to talk about institutional issues.
I want to speak about water management as an
institution which has evolved over the last 20
years to do the job we've been assigned. We've
tried to do the job and, at the same time, maintain
some modicum of accountability and credibility
with the public and the Legisatwu tlha we kno.
what we're here for. So I lhink it's time that we do'
a self analysis.
To perform this self analysis, I'm not going to
list all the things we've accomplished and then
lament that we are unloved. I'm going to step
beyond that and say what's wrong. I've analyzed
it this way. There are only two things wrong with
water management in Florida today. One is our
image and the other is our performance.
All the pundits who stand on the sidelines and
take pot shots at us keep saying that perception is
reality. After a couple of years of being perceived,
I have come to the realization that the pundits are
right. And unless we change this perception, I
think we will suffer dire consequences as an insti-
In a speech Nat Reed prepared for a technical
conference last June, he caught the history, devel-
opment and the unique flavor of water resource
protection in Florida over the last 25 years. lie
charged those of us who are in this field with the
responsibility to go forward and make sure that
this institution is not changed so dramatically that
we are unable to do the job of protecting our future
Let's move forward to the present. I have put
together a few choice comments from some of our
finer newspapers which were published in the
summer and full. Here's just a sampling of what
"They (board members) are the only public offi-
cials in all of Florida who have the power to raise
taxes, but do not have the corresponding obliga-
tion to go before the people periodically in order to
keep their positions."
"The water management districts are out of
control. It is true that these people just decide
what they want to do and then they do it. Past
attempts in the Legislature to make water man-
agement board positions elected have failed."
"It would appear that the only solution to this
problem is for the Legislature to take appropriate
action to try to contain this free-spending, irre-
sponsible growing giant."
There is, perhaps, one message we should ex-
tract from comments such as those just listed. And
that message is our lifeblood really does flow from
the Legislature. Our powers and responsibilities
are outlined by the Legislature.
There are now several profiled bills in the Leg-
islature whose purpose is to get water manage-
ment "under control." There are several ways this
is going to come about.
'' gome bills call for elected board ineibers. Oth-
ers call for the lowering of our taxing or spending
caps. One bill will create a study commission
which will be composed of most of the interests
that we regulate. The commission would be
charged with determining how we should exist
and what responsibilities we should have.
There is a very small but vocal minority of leg-
islators who are filing bills which will use the
hyperbole generated by the press to serve the
vested interests. I really have a hard time under-
standing how these legislative "cures" will help the
Legislature get "a handle on water management."
My recommendation to board members and
water management staff is two-fold. The first part
relates to a strategy to deal with the "perception"
which is reality. We have to play to our strengths.
My nine years of association with water manage-
ment districts has taught me that our biggest
strength is our board members.
So I am calling upon our board members to
reach out and talk to their local legislative delega-
tions and explain to them what we're doing, how
we're doing it and what needs to be done in the
future. There's no need to mince words. We need
to tell it like it is.
Second, we need to do our job better and more
efficiently. Once we do that, we must develop an
outreach program to explain to the public, the
press and the Legislature how we've made im-
provements. We must demonstrate how we've re-
duced spending and increased efficiency and pro-
ductivity. It's time to quit talking about it and do
it. We all need to gear up or well lose what I be-
lieve is one of the best organizational structures in
this nation for protection of this vital resource.
So, you (board members and staff) all have
heard my message. Go forth and do good things.