During a meeting yesterday, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District reversed a unique district policy established the same day the district was created in 1961: “Basin Boards” to represent the interests of areas smaller than the entire district. Under pressure from Governor Rick Scott, the governing board voted to eliminate all of the Basin Boards. This undoes four decades of SWFWMD practice adapted to the needs of their particular region of Florida.
The district’s first meeting was held on August 28, 2021 in Tallahassee under the sponsorship of Governor Farris Bryant. The organizers of the new district emphasized the need to respond to local desires. Governor Bryant praised the new district for “maximum decentralization” via the system of Basin Boards. According to Bryant, it was “vital that the tax monies be spent in those localities where the public is willing to participate in terms of benefits received.”
This unique SWFWMD system of Basin Boards continued after Governor Bryant through the terms of many Florida governors. Only a few months into Governor Scott’s term in office, the Basin Boards have been abolished at his direction. SWFWMD’s official view has been that the Basin Boards were,
….important to efficient water resource management. They allow planning to take place for each Basin, which conforms to trends being established by state and federal agencies. And they also provide a vehicle to enhance environmental protection efforts that look at entire watersheds, including the land, water, and plants and animals within them. The Basin Boards, through their annual planning process, identify key issues and establish priorities in their Basins in four areas of responsibility: water supply, flood protection, water quality, and natural systems.
Local citizens sitting on Basin Boards in the Tampa Bay region might take a different position than the Governor in Tallahassee. Rather than being silenced, local voices should be strengthened.
Another radical change from Governor Scott.