SW Florida Takes Courageous US Vote in Minimum Flow Action

Southwest Florida Water Management District votes to establish minimum flows and levels in Tampa Bay.


Ansley Samson, (EAJUS) (850)681-0031

Becky Ayech, ECOSWF (941) 322-2164

The Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District took a courageous first step towards undoing years of devastating environmental damage in the Northern Tampa Bay area. The Board voted to establish minimum flows and levels in that area which, once implemented, would prevent significant harm to Florida’s wetlands, lakes and groundwater.

“We are impressed,” said Ansley Samson, an attorney in the Tallahassee office of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “The Governing Board decided to set minimum flows and levels at a point arrived at after a great deal of scientific discussion about hydrologic issues and structural changes to waterbodies as well as after extensive public comment. The interested parties need to sit down now and figure out exactly how and how fast to implement these levels — not waste time litigating them.”

The levels and flows the Board chose represent the culmination of many technical committee meetings and extensive public comment over the past year. The Board had before it the choice of grandfathering in significant environmental damage caused by groundwater withdrawals — an alternative set of minimum flows and levels developed at the last minute and without extensive public comment and technical debate. In a 5-3 vote late Tuesday night, the Board chose the high road, and set the flows and levels at the “no significant harm” level.

“We are very much indebted to those Governing Board members who voted to support these particular minimum flows and levels for their foresight in recognizing that long term economic viability can only be achieved through environmental sustainability,” said Becky Ayech, President of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (ECOSWF). Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has represented ECOSWF in public hearings and workshops regarding the minimum flows and levels established.

The minimum flows and levels are required to be established by October 1 of this year as a result of a 1996 law passed by the Florida legislature. The Governing Board’s next step is to develop a recovery strategy, which will set forth a timetable for the implementation of conservation measures as well as the development of alternative water supplies.

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