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FL Leaders Organized for Water (FLOW):
"We’re gridlocked. We’re not gettin' anything done.”

Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth is one of FLOW's untapped resources

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Monday night FLOW (Florida Leaders Organized for Water) met for the 15th time since its first beginnings in December of 2011. Comprised of various leaders from counties and cities across northern Florida that draw their water from the Floridian Aquifer, the seed for FLOW was planted in 2011 when the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) granted JEA a permit to draw up to 155 million gallons of fresh clean drinking water a day from the shrinking aquifer. The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) shares the aquifer on the western side and many folks thought that the SRWMD had sold out its users by not protesting the permit more strongly.

North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership (NFRWSP)

Many people believe that FLOW was responsible for the creation of the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership. The NFRWSP was formed after the initial meetings of FLOW when the SJRWMD and the SRWMD joined hands and reached out to form a stakeholders advisory group.

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Stakeholders from across the spectrum are represented in the NFRWSP and some believe it is making progress and being heard; others believe that the water management districts are glad-handing the volunteers, making them feel good while the districts are doing what they want anyway.

While FLOW is meandering rudderless and going nowhere, the NFRWSP is regularly attended by the water management district directors and others of influence who are in the audience to answer questions, a sign that on some level this stakeholder group is being taken seriously.

FLOW includes as its members Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth of Keystone Heights and County Commissioner Gene Higginbotham of Dixie County. Both of these elected public officials are members of the NFRWSP, representing local government. Mayor Hildreth represents local governments in the St. Johns River Water Management District, while Commissioner Higginbotham represents the local governments in the Suwannee River Water Management district. Both are committed to protecting the aquifer.

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Mayor Hildreth reported to FLOW and explained that her and Com. Higginbotham’s charge is to provide guidance and advice to the water management districts and DEP with the ultimate goal of coming up with a regional water plan.

Mayor Hildreth explained that the group meets the second Monday of the month at Lake City Gateway College at 1 pm in the library.

Mayor Hildreth said, “There is a definite connection between this group and that group. We are doing or trying to do a lot of the same things.” Mayor Hildreth said everyone claims to be using best practices and is saving water and the problem is “not us – not us.” She said, “We really need to find out who needs to take that responsibility.”

Flow Position Paper*
Flow Strategic Plan*
Flow Website*

The Mayor recommended the group go to the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership’s web site. She said every document; presentation; written comment; public comment is all there and encouraged everyone to visit the site. “There are a lot of positive things going on,” she said.

FLOW is not utilizing its local government representation on the NFRWSP and won’t be able to until it figures out where it is going and comes up with a plan.

Eleven municipalities have signed the interlocal agreement which binds FLOW together.

FLOW Finances

On March 15, 2012, stuck in the Columbia County consent agenda, the County’s homeless County Commission, without requesting or allowing any public comment, donated $250,000 of Columbia County resident’s tax money to fund FLOW for 2012.

On May 3, 2012, County Manager Dale Williams told the County Commission that “The seed money [$250,000] Columbia County put into place to establish FLOW will quickly be depleted in the establishment of budgets for science, legislative efforts, legal, public information, etc.” (May 3d budget workshop).

Of that $250k, Columbia County spent approximately $21,000 on its pet projects and billed them to FLOW. While the FLOW interlocal gives the power to approve expenditures to FLOW's members, Columbia County did not present these projects to FLOW for approval.

At the end of FY 2012, Columbia County swept $225,413.52 back into its general fund, while at the same time granting another $250k of the public’s money to FLOW.

Columbia County’s Ronald Williams: "We're gridlocked"

County Commissioner and FLOW Chairman, Ronald Williams, wrapped up the meeting. He told FLOW’s members that the Columbia County Commission was very unhappy with the progress FLOW was making. Com Williams said the County Commission was very unhappy that FLOW did not “put together a legislative response of information to the legislators in this session. They feel that we’re spinnin' our wheels.”

None of the Columbia County Commissioners have mentioned Com Williams concerns at a public meeting.

Com Williams told FLOW, “We need to come up with a way to be more effective... We’re like Washington. We’re gridlocked. We’re not gettin' anything done.”

FLOW scheduled a facilitated workshop for Saturday morning, April 13th, to see if it can find the right track. 

* At post time neither document was posted to the FLOW website, the "Get Involved" link was a blank and there were not any minutes nor agendas posted.

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