ORLANDO — A controversial proposal to name a water czar who could route water from one part of the state to another has been shot down again.
Delegates gathered to study Florida's future water supply Thursday soundly rejected a proposal five years after it was last debated. The Florida Water Congress — the first statewide gathering of its kind in more than 30 years — killed the idea because it represented the creation of a new layer of bureaucracy at a time when every level of government is facing major budget cutbacks.
"I don't see how adding another layer of bureaucracy is going to help," said Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, who was representing the Florida Home Builders Association.
"I agree — get it out of here," said South Florida Water Management District executive director Carol Wehle.
Five years ago, the state's leading business group, the Council of 100, had proposed setting up a state water commission that could route water from rural North Florida to booming South Florida. The proposal, spearheaded by Clearwater real estate mogul Lee Arnold and South Florida megadeveloper Al Hoffman, stirred such outrage that then-Gov. Jeb Bush scuttled it.
The idea came up again this week when the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida convened the Water Congress in Orlando, a meeting presided over by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. More than 400 people signed up to attend the gathering, the first of its kind since Gov. Reubin Askew convened a similar group in the midst of a crippling drought in 1971, leading to the passage of the state's current water laws.
For this week's gathering, the Century Commission picked 120 delegates — utility executives, government officials, lobbyists, farmers, lawyers and environmental activists — to debate such issues as how to link development with water supply and how to encourage greater conservation.
The delegates broke into five groups Thursday afternoon to start going through a list of proposals drawn up by former Pinellas County Commissioner Steve Seibert, now an official with the Collins Center for Public Policy in Tallahassee. One proposal, which Seibert acknowledged would be controversial, called for setting up some sort of water czar to oversee water distribution statewide.
Each of the five groups of delegates roundly rejected the idea as unnecessary, most with little debate.