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Columbia County Observer

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North Central Florida Water Working Group Gathering Steam:  St. John's Dir says – Spend the money on solutions, not wars

Columbia County, County Manager Dale Williams addresses the gathering.

The Suwannee River/St. Johns River Water Management Districts multi county/city working group picked up steam last night as it looked for a direction and method to keep a watchful eye on the region's water resources and the water management districts that by Florida Statute are entrusted to manage them. It was never explained by Columbia County, the facilitators of the event, why the water management districts were intentionally kept from updating the gathering on the joint progress being made by them, the DEP and the State of Georgia. These multijurisdictional issues are the very issues that the group was formed to address.

Long time Columbia County, County Manager Dale Williams moderated the event and explained that he and a couple of Commissioners had met with Chris Doolin of the Small County Coalition, the lobbying group that addresses the needs of Florida's small counties.

Columbia County's legendary Commissioner, Ronald Williams hit the mark when he told the gathering, "We have to have on objective. That is to save our water."

A few moments later, Shirley Clark, the president of the Suwannee River League of Cities representing the Town of Branford, continued with Commissioner Williams' sentiment:  "We hope that we can come to some great decisions so that future generations can enjoy the water to drink, the water to fish in and the water to swim in. That is our purpose."

County Manager Williams continued, explaining Columbia County's vision, "To concentrate our efforts on what we see as being a tremendous problem."

County Manager Williams never explained the "tremendous problem."

What about the grass roots?

Over the years, there have been many grass roots organizations that have rallied around specific water issues, from bottling water to pollution, to protect the resource.

An unidentified speaker stood up in the audience: I don't see that there is any representation here at all of the grass roots organizations that have been active in this area for a long time. Do you have a plan for including those folks?

County Manager Williams answered, "There is no plan.  However there may be one at a later date."

Douglas Brown of Columbia County followed up. He was concerned that there was "no way for ordinary citizens to participate."

After some more discussion the group came up with a tentative name: FLOW - Florida Leaders Organized for Water.

The cart before the horse

County Manager Williams announced that Columbia County was developing a web site. The purpose has yet to be determined. Input is needed from all before the electrons begin moving around.

St. Johns River Water Management Director Could Take It No More

As the meeting wound down, no one from either the Suwannee or the St. Johns River Water Management Districts was invited to speak.

Finally, with a little urging from a member of the audience, Hans Tanzler spoke up. "I'm sorry. I can't help myself. My name is Hans Tanzler. I am the new Executive Director of the St. Johns Water Management District."

Unknown to everyone, except a select few in Columbia County, Mr. Tanzler, as well as his counterpart at the SRWMD, Director David Still, were intentionally kept off the agenda.

Mr. Tanzler went to the microphone and told the assembly that it was "humbling to see the credibility gap that has developed with the districts. Suwannee and St. Johns has a lot of work to do to bridge that gap," he said.

He continued, "We're on the case. You don't know it yet, but we are. There is a lot going on -- we're going to take the opportunity to try to explain to some of the commission boards and to others when we get a chance -- we are trying to get more data."

Most counties in north central Florida have been reeling due to the poor economy. Mr. Tanzler addressed the issue head on.

"The expenditures of public money for a purpose that is just to fight intergovernmental issues, to me is financially irrational and I am sorry that we are at a point that you feel it might be rational."

He explained that there will be a process for "all of you" to address the issues with both the SRWMD and the SJRWMD.

He said, "You will be foremost at our table -- communicating -- sharing your concerns -- working about what is real science, so that we can come up with real solutions."

He concluded, "Let's take that precious money and spend it on solutions, not on wars."


Mary Lou Hildredth, Mayor of Keystone Heights gave her take concerning the current state of affairs of the working relationship with the water management districts. She said that both the SRWMD and the SJWMD were being very cooperative and addressing the issues that have been brought to them.

Columbia County's Commissioner Ronald Williams asked, "Where was this working relationship between the districts before we decided to get involved?"

The work had begun in earnest last September and the Commissioner, as well as everyone else, may have gotten an answer had Columbia County not kept the Water Management Districts off the agenda.

At least the dialogue has begun and everyone seems to be pointed in the same direction, to protect the water resources of the region for those who follow.

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

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