Radical change at the Southwest Florida Water Management District

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.”

Standing governors L-R: Claude R. Kirk, Jeb Bush, Robert Martinez. Seated: Wayne Mixson, Reubin O'D Askew and Farris Bryant. April 4, 2021 (Florida Photographic Archive)


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.


Radical change at the Southwest Florida Water Management District — 2 Comments

  1. Also, just another example of our heavy handed Governor’s unwillingness to listen to the needs of others. Regionally focused input such as that addressed by the now defunct Basin Boards is too democratic for him. His shortsighted ‘business before anything else’ agenda will bring years of social and environmental rebuilding after his term in office. It is unfortunate that the citizens of Florida listened to his money rather than the documented history of his damaging management philosophy.

  2. The St. Pete Times reported this morning that eliminating all of Swiftmud’s basin boards would save a grand total of $350,000 to $400,000. Given Swiftmud’s annual budget of $280 million, this few hundred thousand dollars is chump change-and for that chump change, citizens have long received a significant voice in how their modest water district tax dollars are spent in the Tampa Bay area. Now, thanks to Governor Scott, citizens throughout the district will have far less opportunity to help determine how their water district tax money is spent. Of course, how could it be otherwise with a Governor and Republican-dominated Legislature that feeds us nursery rhymes about the perils of big government and voter fraud, and then wastes its time passing laws about droopy pants and restricting voter rights? The hard right seems to think we can have “limited government” in a state of 19 million people (and counting), which is utter nonsense. The truth is that government will forever be huge (because our population is huge)-and the only question will be who will use government for what ends. I hope I live long enough to join the chorus of people years from now who will look back and say “what on earth were these lawmakers and their supporters thinking?”