Category Archives: SRWMD

Four Freedoms Trail, Madison, FL to Withlacoochee River

Paddling down the Withlacoochee River from Nankin to Mozell Spells, the remains of the Valdosta Railway Bridge mark on the right bank the north end of the Four Freedoms Trail, one of the few hiking trails on the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT):

Valdosta Railway trestle
Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS, 9 July 2016.

The Four Freedoms Trail in Madison County was constructed as a joint effort between Continue reading

SRWMD kept money from Florida for “routinely anticipated budget shortfalls”

Where does the buck stop for these “routinely anticipated budget shortfalls”? Who let a budget include those? Isn’t the point of a budget to, well, budget for what’s needed? Or, given the history of deliberate downsizing of environmental agencies in Florida, maybe shortfalls were the point.

Noah Valenstein
Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday May 23rd, on a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. His previous job? Executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, which was flagged by state auditors for $22.5 million in “questionable costs”. The audit covered the time Valenstein led the district. He oversees the district in his new job. [Special to the Times]

Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald-Times Tallahassee Bureau, 14 July 2017, Auditors find millions in ‘questionable costs’ at water district,

Weak budgetary controls led to $22.5 million in “questionable costs,” auditors found. Officials had transferred $13.3 million of it into the district’s operating account without proper authority. They may have overspent some areas of the budget and directed money to other areas to make up for shortfalls. They set aside $3.8 million “in the event of an economic crisis” without authorization, and they steered $1.7 million “to cover routinely anticipated budget shortfalls” without explanation.

Contingency funds, sure, but “routinely anticipated”? And in an economic crisis, wouldn’t it be the legislature that should be authorizing funds?

Auditors concluded that accounts were “misclassified because district personnel misunderstood” standard accounting requirements and budget staff members were “somewhat new to the process” so they couldn’t explain how and why it happened.

That is what happens when a state massively defunds its environmental agencies and makes political tests and servicing economic development more important than competence. The article goes into that, rightly pointing a finger repeatedly at Governor Rick Scott, who said “ensuring that Florida’s precious water resources are protected and managed in the most fiscally responsible way possible” while:

The five districts, whose boards are appointed by the governor and operate under the oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection, were purged of hundreds of veteran professionals, and budgets were cut in half. They continued cutting their budgets through 2016. Suwannee, because of its small size, had proportionally fewer cuts.

The article discusses and quotes SRWMD staff, with some pretty amusing tidbits, including this one from “Roary E. Snider, the district’s chief of staff”, who

also disputed the auditor’s claim they don’t have documentation. “While we absolutely will provide these records, these documents were largely in hard copy,” Snider said. “Staff couldn’t assemble these additional records in time.”

SRWMD staff don’t know how to use a scanner? Or they didn’t know where they put those paper documents? Or maybe the dog ate them.

The article even quotes Eric Draper of Audubon Florida about “problems we’ve seen at the Suwannee River district with the change of leadership over the years,”. If Audubon Florida “works closely with the water management districts”, what did Audubon Florida know, when did they know it, and why are they only speaking up now?

The actual audit report lists on page 2:

Executive Director
Noah Valenstein from October 13, 2015
Carlos Herd, Interim, from May 14, 2015, to October 12, 2015
Dr. Ann B. Shortelle to May 13, 2015

The article mentions that:

The district is overseen by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is now headed by Noah Valenstein. His last job was executive director of the Suwannee River WMD during the time the audit was underway.

Guess which fox the foxhouse is turning to for assistance:

The district said it would turn to the Department of Environmental Protection for advice on how to resolve the dispute over whether money is owed to the state.

“DEP has communicated with staff at the Suwannee River Water Management District, and they have informed us that they are reviewing accounting and land acquisition records for additional information,” said Lauren Engel, spokesperson for Valenstein.

“If it is determined that these funds should be returned to DEP, they would go to the trust fund from which the funding was issued, however, DEP would require spending authority from the legislature to use it.”

This is the same Noah Valenstein who told me shortly after he was appointed to SRWMD that he believes that Florida law requires him and SRWMD to provide water resources for economic development. Maybe he should have paid more attention to making sure the economic resources of the District were properly organized.

The Miami Times-Herald story as carried by tbo.com (Tampa Bay Times) has a bit more pointed headline and picture caption (see top of this blog post), Auditors find millions in ‘questionable costs’ at water district, but will it matter? Continue reading

BMAPs: Agriculture and water at the Suwannee River Basin crossroads 2017-04-13

The conclusion from FDEP in their BMAP presented to an almost-full SRWMD boardroom on April 13, 2017 was: nitrogen runoff into springs and rivers from all sources (the biggest being agriculture, dairies, and poultry) must decrease 83 to 93 percent. For once nobody seemed to argue with research by state agencies. Rather everyone, from representatives of the biggest of farmers to Pilgrim’s Pride to a wide variety of environmental groups seemed aghast at the severity of the situation.

Title slide

This Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the Lower and Middle Suwannee River Basin turns out to include the Withlacoochee River almost to the Georgia line, because Continue reading

SRWMD responds about NFRWSP; come to Alachua Tuesday 2017-01-17

SRWMD did post responses to comments from WWALS and others on the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP). A week before the planned NFRWSP adoption, same as for the agenda for the joint SRWMD-SJRWMD meeting next Tuesday in Alachua. After OSFR and WWALS posted critical blog posts, SRWMD Executive Director Noah Valenstein sent us and others an offer to meet this Friday in Live Oak to discuss. While many (including me), thanked him for his collegial offer, nobody took him up on it. See you in Alachua Tuesday (facebook event).

Below are Noah Valenstein’s letter and my response. Continue reading

North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan on agenda for joint SRWMD-SJRWMD meeting 2017-01-17

Update 2017-01-12: SRWMD did post responses to comments on the NFRWSP: they posted them a week in advance of planned adoption. Come on down to Alachua Tuesday!

Next week in Alachua without further public meetings or response to those who wrote in, SRWMD and SJRWMD plan to approve the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP), as the only item on the agenda.

Agenda

When: 11AM Tuesday 17 January 2017

Where: 15100 NW 142nd Terrace, Alachua, FL 32615

Event: facebook

WWALS never got a response to our letter about the NFRWSP, not about less water withdrawal, nor about better modeling and data, nor about more water retention, nor specifically about ditching the Rube Goldberg Falling Creek Aquifer Recharge Project for Dennis Price P.G.’s more cost-effective solution, nor with any mention of participation from farther afield in Florida nor in Georgia, for that matter.

The language of the memorandum accompanying the agenda is rather Orwellian:

The NFRWSP has identified sufficient sources of water to meet the needs of the environment and the projected demands through 2035.

That sounds like the environment is making projected demands. Actually, the maps in the NFRWSP are pretty clear that Jacksonville is making the most demands for water, along with other cities and corporate agriculture, and the plan would take from the environment, mostly from the Suwannee River Basin, to get that water.

Our Santa Fe River sums it up pretty well: Continue reading