Flowing in new directions

Regular posting on this blog has been a good discipline, as well as enjoyable. My goal has been to help provide practical solutions to important Florida water problems–while having a bit of fun. There have been many opportunities for both. However, not all blogs are permanent and the time has come for me to turn to other activities and settings.

I have greatly appreciated reader comments and suggestions, as well as getting to know some of you personally. It has been very rewarding to at least sometimes match content with readers’ interests. Thank you all for giving this blog some attention.

[Note: Blog will stay online for reading.]


The $120 billion misdirection

Gee, it has been a whole year since I wrote about false claims on the economic importance of Florida’s largest water user: agriculture. If this kind of thing bores you, stop reading because this is only an update.

No, agriculture does not contribute $120 billion a year to the Florida economy, even if elected officials make that claim.  That wild overestimate was published recently in the Orlando Sentinel, CNBC, WFSU, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Gainesville Sun, and the Space Coast Daily.

In fact, Florida agricultural activities amount to less than 2% of the state’s domestic product. The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis puts it more like $7 billion and 1% of the Florida economy:

Florida domestic product

No amount of economic “multiplier” can turn $7 billion into $120 billion. The mistaken claim that agriculture contributes $120 billion a year comes from ceaseless promotion of a single IFAS report that publishes that number for Agriculture, NATURAL RESOURCES, AND RELATED FOOD INDUSTRIES(!). Most of that is NOT agriculture, as the report itself explains.

The “Natural Resources” part of the report’s total includes birdwatching, golf, etc.  That ain’t agriculture. The “Related Food Industries” part includes grocery stores, pet food stores, restaurants, bars, juice bars, coffee shops, etc. On top of that is landscape services, veterinary services, phosphate and lime rock mining, etc. Look at the underlying numbers, people! Ag is only a small fraction of the total. Truly!

Florida water policy works only when based on facts about both water and related human activities. The $120 billion myth has got to come to an end. On my own authority, I am imposing a $5.00 penalty for the next time that anyone says or writes that claim again. Pay it to your favorite charity.

Modifying water management expectations?

Maybe it all is working exactly as designed. All of the Florida water “problems” are either created deliberately or are deemed acceptable tradeoffs for other higher priorities.

Too much nitrogen contamination from septic tanks? That is just too bad, buddy, we must protect the freedom to pollute for millions of homeowners. Springs with declining flows? Friend, that is just evidence of putting groundwater to human uses. Tax breaks and price incentives for withdrawing too much water? Can’t stop!–It feels too good and is politically beneficial to give stuff away.

Policies can be changed, however, with sufficient pressure. Reverend Peyton visits Florida sometimes and offers a bit of related wisdom:




Conservative water policy hints

The candidates running for the Republican Presidential nomination haven’t talked much about water so we must extrapolate from their other statements. We can expect policies like the following to appear on their websites soon:

Never forget that the Second Amendment protects our right to open carry of water cannons.

Everything in the world is terrifying so we must have a crash program to conceal pants-wetting.

We must cut water charges for the highest water users. That will grow jobs, jobs, jobs. 

We must get the federal government out of the way of state action in restoring the Everglades.

Fracking and offshore oil drilling all around Florida, baby!

We must stop the import of non-native water. Also the flow of foreign rivers into Florida from Georgia and Alabama. Perhaps by a giant wall.

Barack Obama regularly drinks water and he wants you to do the same!

Hurricanes no longer respect America. We must disregard political correctness and take them down.

Water disinfection comes from the same liberals and so-called scientists that dreamed up evolution, disease vaccination, and climate change. Disinfection will cease on day one of the next Presidency. 

At least, that is what I read between the lines.

Taking your chances with the “100-year” flood?

Why would Floridians knowingly put structures on a river bank or seashore right in the path of a “100-year” flood? For many people, the statistical odds of disaster might be acceptable. How so?

The hundred-year flood is estimated to occur, at least statistically, in 1% of years. Put differently, 99% of years are estimated to not have a flood of that magnitude. If a person’s time horizon of flooding concern is 50 years, the chances of not going over the 99% event for the next 50 years are 0.99 to the 50th power: 0.605. That means a 60.5% chance of not seeing a 100-year flood at an individual site in the next half-century. (Or, a 39.5% likelihood of experiencing the 100-year flood one or more times over that same period.)

Yes, estimates of flood frequency are not exact. Yes, rainfall and flood patterns may be changing. Yes, floods of less than 100-year severity can be quite damaging. Yes, the statistical likelihood for regional and state flooding is greater than for an individual. Yes, people are not good intuitive risk assessors.

Still, I suspect that many people feel that they can luck out. A 60.5% chance of a 100-year flood over 50 years doesn’t intimidate them. This is even more true if subsidized flood insurance is available or if they hope to receive emergency disaster assistance after the big flood.