Zombie water ideas

Zombie water ideas are undead; no matter how many times they are killed by what appears to be lethal refutation, they still act alive. Here’s a few of them:

A ring of desalination plants around Florida can provide all the water we need. Zombies have no interest in economic efficiency. There almost always are cheaper alternatives to desal, including improved efficiency.

Privatizing water rights and setting up markets would solve water supply shortages. This ignores the many practical obstacles to a functioning water market. The undead can ignore any reality.

Agriculture’s water use is proportionate to its economic impact. This is untrue for Florida and the United States but that fact makes no headway in public debate. (Zombie agriculturalists have little interest in fruit or vegetable production.)

Climate change doesn’t threaten Florida. It is always a waste of time to argue with a Zombie about climate change. Their brain rot forces backward reasoning: Coping with climate change would be expensive and therefore the physical reality must be untrue.

Bottled water is healthier than tap water. The health differences are imaginary. (Of course, though, Zombies don’t care very much whether their drinking water is polluted.).

Some disproved water ideas still walk among us. Killed again and again, they refuse to stay dead.

Eliminate the negative

This will be the first gubernatorial administration in many years without any kind of a water management or growth management “commission” or “task force.” (For that matter, this administration has not set up an energy commission. Or a climate commission. Or a governmental reform commission. Or an open government commission. Or a tax reform commission.) If you invite people to say what they think, they just might say something you don’t like. No reason to hear any of that, with an election coming up and all.


Falling into failure

Peter Paul Rubens, 1620, "Fall of the Damned"

Peter Paul Rubens, 1620, “Fall of the Damned”

General glumness abounds in the Leroy Collins Institute report from last February: “Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future” (pdf). From education to transportation to the state’s tax system, they conclude that the state is in worse shape than a decade ago and not getting any  better:

We think Florida passed a tipping point in the 2000s – a point at which the gradual accumulation of many small changes became a large and (nearly) irreversible one. New high-skill jobs go where there are existing concentrations of  high-skill jobs because they are more productive there. They go where investments in K-12 and higher education are world class, both to tap into the talent pool and because the workers want good schools for their children. They go where infrastructure is configured to support mobility in dense, dynamic, urban centers. In 1985, Florida was close and modest continued investment might have gotten us there. Now, we have a long way to go with a low share of high-skill jobs and low educational attainment among our young workers. (p. 108)

The Institute says that “tough” choices are necessary but it is clear that the state’s current political leadership is satisfied with second-rate institutions. For many years, there was at least one exception to the usual choice of mediocrity: the state’s unique system of adequately-funded and relatively nonpolitical water management districts.  Rick Scott’s election quickly erased that anomaly.

The “easy” water and other policy choices now being made are a product of a broken political system. Constitutional referenda that are broadly supported by Floridians, like the Land and Water Legacy amendment, are opposed by Legislative leaders. One-third of of Legislative races in Florida are uncontested.  Gubernatorial and presidential elections split almost 50/50 between the two political parties but members of the Legislature somehow end up 2/3 Republican. Very recently, a judge found convincing evidence that “Republican political operatives managed to find….ways to infiltrate and influence the Legislature” and “taint the redistricting process.”

At least two water management districts are lowering taxes again just as Scott heats up his reelection campaign. Florida’s water management system no longer stands apart from general political trends. A healthier water management system is possible in Florida only with a healthier politics.

Stevenson’s “Journey”

Stevenson JourneyThe best natural history interpreter you will ever hear is Jim Stevenson. His book, “My Journey in Florida’s State Parks: A Naturalist’s Memoir,” is just as interesting. It is a “partial” memoir and covers mostly the 25 years he devoted to the Florida Park Service as Park Ranger, Biologist, and Chief Naturalist. Jim packs the book with fascinating true accounts of important events in state parks. First hiking trail in the Florida State Park system? Laid out by Jim in Torreya Park. First prescribed burn? Tested, with Jim’s prompting, at Falling Waters State Recreation Area. Formation of the first “Springs Working Group”? Jim again.

There is more going on, though, than entertaining stories. Many readers will enjoy the vivid narratives and hardly realize that they are absorbing sophisticated theories about resource management. Jim demonstrates how a single person can make a big difference, despite major challenges.  Perhaps, if you devote yourself to Florida’s future like Jim has, your own “journey” may include having your name placed on a major spring.

[Note: The link above for the book is for the inexpensive version on Amazon with black-and-white imagery. The slightly more expensive color version is available here.]

Stop the madness of “independent scientific peer review”

It would require a whole article to explain why the system of “independent scientific peer review” for establishing minimum flows and levels should be terminated. Briefly, here is what is wrong:

Scheduled at the end rather than at the beginning. The statutorily-mandated “peer review” occurs at the end of the MFL scientific investigations, rather than usefully guiding the effort from the very beginning. This results in wasted work and needless expense.

Deliberately undermines agency credibility. By assuming that WMD scientists  can’t be trusted to figure out an MFL without help, the message is that they can’t be trusted on anything.

Paying for nitpicking. It is a very safe bet that the paid members of the peer review panel will find “something” wrong and recommend more research.

Incentivizes wasteful reviews. The WMDs have to practice defensive medicine. They must undertake “peer review” for almost every waterbody, whether merited or not, because it would look bad to omit it.

Scientific veneer. Ultimately, the governing board of a water management district has to decide what level of change in a flow or level would cause “significant” harm and the appropriate baseline for decision. Not the peer review panel. That final decision is imbued with policy and value preferences, not scientific determinations.

Minimal legal significance. The WMD governing board has to give only “significant weight” to the peer review panel report. In the case of a legal challenge, Administrative Law Judges don’t have to give it even that weight.

The so-called “peer review” process is really about making it as difficult as possible to adopt an adequate minimum flow and level. Those who love peer review panels for MFLs never demand that it precede the issuance of big water water use or wetland permits.