The natural resource on which all Floridians (and tourists) are most dependent is clean, fresh water. In our area, we are more fortunate than much of the world.
Worldwide, water covers about 71 percent of the Earth's surface but, according to the World Resources Institute, 97.4 percent of that is ocean saltwater. The remainder (2.6 percent) is fresh water, but the biggest portion of that (.057 percent) is found in rivers, lakes, the soil, the atmosphere and animal and plant matter (biota). To illustrate the value of water in another way: If all of the world's water were contained in a half-gallon bottle, usable fresh water would represent only half a teaspoon.
The responsibility of protecting this most valuable resource has been given to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, by the state of Florida. The jurisdiction of Swiftmud covers parts of 16 counties on the west coast of Florida. The rest of the state is covered by other water management districts. The districts also have jurisdiction over fresh surface waters, including flood control structure management.
The water is for agricultural, industrial and residential use. Worldwide, 73 percent is used for agriculture, 21 percent for industry and 6 percent for residential. In the United States, 47 percent is used for agriculture, 43 percent for industry and 10 percent for residential.
In an effort to insulate the governing boards of the water districts from politics, appointments from different parts of the district are made by the governor. When one considers all of the special interests involved, it is easy to understand the need for insulation from politics and the impossibility of pleasing everyone. I certainly hope that when a citizens advisory committee is appointed by Swiftmud, it does not result in the further politicization of the agency.
If we have a drought and the lakes, rivers and streams are low (as in 1981 and currently) some people will blame Swiftmud. If we have a wet period (as in 1982) and there is flooding and high water, guess who some of the same people blame? _ Swiftmud.
If some lakefront property owners find their boating access blocked by weeds, Swiftmud and/or the county are blamed. If the weeds are sprayed, another group will claim their water is being poisoned. Before the water management districts were around to be blamed, lakes and rivers have flooded and have dried up. That sort of thing always will continue in natural cycles.
I have had a considerable amount of contact with Swiftmud during the past 12 years. I would not say that I have always been pleased with everything it has done (or not done). I felt for a time it was not doing enough to protect wetlands, but it has improved in the past couple of years. I thought there were not enough controls on the water used by agriculture, but in the past two years, Swiftmud has required metered pumping.
Generally speaking, I think Swiftmud does a very good job. It has a trained, educated and competent staff of professionals _ including planners, ecologists, hydrogeologists, engineers and other scientists _ to advise the governing board. It has preserved through purchase nearly 200,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land that will help protect our lakes, rivers and groundwater. The great majority of this land is available for public access as long as the uses are consistent with the purpose for which the land was obtained.
Peter Hubbel, executive director of Swiftmud, certainly has my sympathy. After attending several meetings in which the citizens group Too Far (Taxpayers Outraged Organization for Accountable Representation) has been involved, he was "rewarded" by being told by one of the female participants that she was "tired of seeing his good-looking, arrogant face at these meetings." Hubbell may be good-looking, but he is not arrogant. I have known him for several years. He is a gentleman, courteous to a fault, intelligent and very professional in his conduct. I think Swiftmud is very lucky to have him.
David Walker, a retired FBI agent, has lived in Floral City since 1979. He served six years on the Citrus County Board of Zoning Adjustment and Appeals, was an adviser on writing the county's comprehensive management plan and is a past president of the local Audubon Society.