R. October 15, 1993
Florida Water Management District Governing Board
Membership: Appointive versus Elective
Abstract summary: Water management in Florida requires a careful balance in managing
different water resources; appointive members are not swayed by constituent pressure;
appointive members can devote more time to resource management and less to political careers;
the backgrounds of those chosen can be more carefully weighed to achieve a balance of views
on the board; a governing board must be composed of members with broad, divergent interests
in order to arrive at a just consensus on where the public interest lies in any given case.
Over the years the State of Florida has developed a comprehensive, equitable and eminently
workable system for managing water. The system's success can be traced directly to certain key
elements. These crucial components are:
1. The state is divided into regional water management districts with district
boundaries that are non-political, being based on natural hydrologic basins.
2. Each district is controlled by a governing board of non-paid, lay citizens with the
ability to hire its own independent staff and to retain its own consultants.
3. The governing boards are relatively large, independent, collegial boards whose
members are appointed by the Governor in compliance with statutorily mandated
4. The districts are not state agencies, but rather are special, multi-county taxing
districts, each with an independent funding source.
5. Any areas within a district may be designated by the district governing board as
subdistricts or basins under control of basin boards appointed by the Governor.
In 1824, Territorial Florida enacted a law providing for the appointment of a group of citizens
to examine the expediency of opening a canal. Ever since, the territory, and then the state, has
been utilizing boards and commissions as a means for managing its water resources.
At times it has left these matters to its highest elected officials, the governor and
cabinet, but more often it has relied on lay citizens, appointed by the governor.
The question of who shall do this was specifically addressed by the legislature in
1949, 1961, 1972, 1983 and 1988. As the water management system in Florida
has evolved, a conscious effort has been maintained throughout to keep the system non-political,
in recognition that the water resources and related problems are not distributed throughout the
state in the same manner and proportion as the population.
It is very difficult to establish a comprehensive system for managing the water resources in such
a large, flat, diverse state. The very subject of water is quite emotional ... and controversial.
Florida always seems to have too much, or too little, water. Too little for some, while at the
same time, too much for others. Extremes often occur at the same time in different parts of the
state, or even within the same water management district, and can change overnight.
A mechanism for creating flood control districts was authorized by the legislature in 1949.
Chapter 25209, Laws of Florida. Governing boards for these districts were to consist of five,
non-paid, lay members, each appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate,
for three-year, staggered terms.
A separate implementing act passed that same year specifically created Central and Southern
Florida Flood Control District, now known as South Florida Water Management District, as a
public corporation with a corporate life of ninety-nine years. See Chapters 25214 and 25270,
Laws of Florida (1949). The legislative act levied an ad valorem tax of 3/10 mill for the first
year of the district's existence and authorized the governing board to levy an annual tax
thereafter of not more than one mill. The Governor's appointive powers have continued through
the years although the board was enlarged to nine members in 1973.
A 1957 Water Resources Law gave the then existing State Board of Conservation (governor and
cabinet) greater powers and duties relating to water management activities. See Chapter 57-380,
Laws of Florida. The legislation created a water resources division within the Board of
Conservation and gave the division general powers and duties to authorize the capture, storage
and use of water, both ground and surface, under certain conditions.
In 1961 the Southwest Florida Water Management District was created by special act of the
legislature. Chapter 61-691, Laws of Florida. It provided that nine, non-paid, lay board
members should be appointed by the Governor for three-year staggered terms from specified
watersheds or river basins. It also provided that basins or sub-districts should be established and
be governed by separate basin boards, whose members were also to be appointed by the
governor, each for three year, staggered terms. The district board was given authority to levy
ad valorem taxes up to 3/10 mill and the basin boards could levy up to one mill.
The Water Resources Act of 1972
The Water Resources Act of 1972 preserved the two existing districts but provided that the entire
state would be divided into water management districts. See Chapter 72-299, Laws of Florida.
The law provided that each district was to have a nine-member governing board to be appointed
by the governor, subject to confirmation by the senate. Non-paid, lay board members were to
be appointed to four-year, staggered terms. A book published in 1972, entitled A Model Water
Code, by Maloney, Ausness & Morriss, reported that the experience of the Central and Southern
Florida Flood Control District with appointed, lay board members since 1949 had shown that
the system is basically sound.
General supervisory authority
The Legislature has recognized that water resource problems within the state vary from region
to region, both in magnitude and complexity. Although each water management district
governing board is an independent, collegial board with each member collectively sharing
responsibility for the board's decisions, a single state agency has responsibility for exercising
general supervisory authority over all the water management districts. Prior to 1974, this
supervisory authority was vested in the Division of Interior Resources of the Department of
Natural Resources, headed by the Governor and cabinet. When the Department of
Environmental Regulation was formed the general supervisory authority over the water
management districts was transferred to the new secretary of DER, although the Governor and
Cabinet, sitting as the Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission, retained authority to review
and rescind or modify any rule or order of a water management district governing board.
Lay Citizens With Diverse Interests
It is essential that the boards be composed of lay citizens and that the boards be sufficiently large
to provide a wide diversity of interests. Both requirements contribute toward the statutory
mandate that the board, in consumptive use permit proceedings, ascertain consistency of the
proposed water use with the public interest. See Section 373.223, Fla. Stat. The legislature has
given little guidance as to what is "consistent with the public interest" although this term is
prescribed as the standard to be applied. It is recognized that what may be consistent with the
public interest today, may not be so consistent tomorrow. This makes it essential that a
governing board have broad and divergent interests in order to make these judgments.
If board members are appointed to represent their respective interests as large agricultural or
industrial water users, as urban or rural dwellers, or as water suppliers, then the collegial board's
abilities to ascertain the "public interest" may be hampered -- or, at least, there will be a public
perception that the true public interest is not being discovered and protected.
Board members should be lay persons, not experts in the field of water management. There is
no requirement in the Florda Statutes that board members have any particular expertise. The
boards have authority to hire executive directors to whom they can delegate portions of their
responsibilities, and they are empowered to employ professional staff members and to retain
Ad valorem taxing
The appointed governing boards of each of the water management districts raise substantial
revenues each year by levying ad valorem taxes. The appointed South Florida Water
Management District Governing Board has levied ad valorem taxes for more than forty years,
ever since it was first created as Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District in 1949.
The appointed Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board and its respective
appointed basin boards have levied ad valorem taxes each year since 1961. The people of the
state of Florida passed a constitutional amendment in 1975 to enable the other appointed
governing boards to levy ad valorem taxes, which they have done each year since. There are
numerous other boards, commissions and authorities throughout the state with non-elected boards
which annually levy ad valorem taxes.
Appointing governing board members helps to ensure the broad representation necessary to
achieve a public interest consensus. The system has been working well, as can be seen from the
Report on Composition of Water Management District Governing Boards, January 28, 1983,
Florida House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, which concluded that ".
there was a fairly [broad] distribution of governing board appointments by occupation
of board members during the past ten years [1974-1983] ." The law relating to governing
boards of the water management districts was reviewed extensively by the legislature in 1988
pursuant to Sundown and Sunset Acts. The issue of "appointed versus elected" governing board
members was specifically reviewed by the staff of the Senate Natural Resources and Conservation
Committee, as reported in its January, 1988 report. See A Review of Selected Functions of
Water Management Districts Scheduled for Repeal on October 1. 1988, Pp. 119-120. The staff
recommended that appointed boards be retained, noting that appointment was favored because
members are not swayed by constituent pressure, that more time can be
devoted to resource management and less to political careers, and that the
backgrounds of those chosen can be more carefully weighed to achieve a balance
of views on the boards.
A relatively large board appointed by the governor, with its broad spectrum of interests, helps
to ensure that the board members' opinions will, in the end, lead to wise decisions and to a just
consensus on where the public interest lies in any given case.
This paper especially prepared for Water Management Institute, Inc. by L. M. Buddy Blain,
October 15, 1993.