Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County/Florida News

Florida Leaders Organized For Water (FLOW): The word is out, "Our water is critical to all of us."

The audience had thinned from previous meetings, but the spirit was there.

For two hours and twenty seven minutes Florida Leaders Organized For Water (FLOW) met in Columbia County's main auditorium to talk about and listen to folks talk about water: water that comes out of the sky, out of the ground, water in the rivers, water in the springs, water used for recreation and water that is used by farmers to grow the food you eat. One thing on which everyone could agree – the water level in the aquifer is going down.

FLOW began its existence on November 29, 2011 when, to a packed house, then Columbia County Commission Chairman Jody DuPree said that the water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection "are failing down in their responsibilities to protect our waters and ecosystems." There were no dissenting voices.

Since that November 29th meeting both the SRWMD and the SJRWMD have admitted they fell down on the job and that they will be doing better.

The 800 lb gorilla in the room, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has admitted to nothing.

This past Monday, March 12th, FLOW met again. The crowd had thinned out, but the spirit was still there as this group finds its sea legs works to make a difference.

After the introductions, the meeting kicked off with Ann Shortelle, the Director of the Office of Water Policy for the DEP, making a few brief remarks. Dr. Shortelle made no mention of expanding the stakeholders in the newly forming advisory committees to North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership to include representatives from tourism and homeowners, something she said she would take under advisement at the conclusion of the water supply partnership meeting in Alachua the week before.

Representatives of the water management districts made brief presentations, followed by a rapid fire presentation by Scott Koons, the executive director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

Mr. Koons said the Planning Council will be increasing its coordination with the counties. He told the group that the Planning Council only advises and coordinates and does not set water policy. He said local government comprehensive plans must be consistent with the regional plan and added that the regional plan contains goals and policies addressing natural resources of regional significance, including water resources.

To the presenters, North Florida's disappearing aquifer was not new news

Bob Knight came to the microphone and told the gathering: You feel like you are running out of water because you are. We need to get to a sustainable level. We need to put a water shortage plan in place.

Jackie Host of the Lake Area Water Alliance:  We all need to take responsibility.

Paul Still of the Bradford Soil and Water Conservation District:  More important how much we put back, not what we take out. SRWMD has over permitted the district. I have a hope that the new model will put the science into it. It is real important to look at the recharge side, not the withdrawal side.

Mary Helen Wheeler of Santa Fe Lake Dwellers said she was excited about the group:  It is not enough to go to meetings. We need to take action. We have to watch that the merging of the two districts isn’t the forerunner to all groups turning into one group.

Annette Long of Save Our Suwannee:  Please keep doing what you are doing. Florida’s water management system is ruled by politics. Our springs are the canary in the coal mine.

Merrille Malwitz-Jipson of Our Santa Fe River, Inc.:  Sink holes are a result of water extraction from the districts. Stop excess consumptive use permits. We are at a crossroads and we must be aware of a moral and ethical obligation to reduce our use for the next generation.

Jacqui Sulek, Audubon of Florida was the last speaker:  We do policy based on sound science. Our history goes way back to the Everglades – boy, do we know about water. I want you to understand the talent you have in this room. We need water to live. Until we take it seriously, there is no fix.

Ms. Sulek was the last speaker.

After all the talk of flows and levels from the scientists, environmentalists and conservationists, the farmer, Jack Byrd had his say.

Did you eat today?

Flow board member Jack Byrd from Lafayette County listened all evening then he asked Ms. Sulek, "Did you eat today? Did you have meal today?"

Ms. Sulek, "Yes sir."

Mr. Byrd:  You were talking about agriculture. I'm here representing agriculture people. If we take away the water from the agriculture, where are you going to eat after tomorrow? If you cut your farmers out – we have to think about that. (Mr. Byrd mentioned conservation measures implemented by farmers) We have to make sure we don't get rid of our farmers, because they are the ones who feed our country. I know we waste a lot of water and I will protect every drop that we can. There is water being misused for other things besides agriculture.

Ms. Sulek, "I totally agree and I didn't mean to insinuate that agriculture was the problem. We all as a society need to come to understand that our water is critical for all of us."


Folks are watching, listening, talking and exchanging ideas – a dangerous condition for the entrenched Floridian bureaucrats.

This should be a wakeup call for the 800 pound gorilla, DEP, and all water management districts across the state.

The plain spoken lifelong country farmer, Jack Byrd, and the urban Jacqui Sulek in their brief exchange crystallized an evening's worth of ideas. "We need water to live – Our water is critical to all of us."

Flow's message is getting out. 


This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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