Water warriors reinvent their advocacy group


Published: Monday, August 5, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 5, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.

Members of Florida Leaders Organized for Water, a regional water group also known as FLOW, have disbanded the organization and replaced it with a new working group they say is already outpacing its predecessor.

FLOW was formed after a November 2011 meeting in Lake City at which a sizable crowd turned out to discuss their concerns about the impact groundwater pumping in the Jacksonville area was having on the region’s water resources.

But Columbia County Commissioner Ron Williams, who was an avid member of FLOW, said the organization fell victim to gridlock. There were too many ideas bouncing around with no decisive actions being taken.

“We never came up with an agenda,” he said.

Realizing FLOW was not accomplishing what it needed to, Williams and a handful of other members recently dissolved the group and formed the North Florida Water Working Group (NFWWG) instead.

Williams said that while FLOW had roughly 25 to 30 members, the new organization is smaller and more focused in its approach. It held its first two meetings in July and accomplished more in those initial sessions than FLOW did in a whole year.

Members have already developed ideas for legislation that could be introduced in the Florida Legislature’s 2014 session and have invited lobbyists to an upcoming meeting to critique their work so far. Water conservation is a top priority as the group starts out because it’s something everyone knows should be happening.

“I think we have the right chemistry and I think we have the right people on board,” he said.

“I’m just thrilled that I believe in my heart that everybody on that group is sincere, and we will have an impact on the water in the state of Florida when it’s all said and done.”

Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, who was also involved with FLOW, is hopeful its successor will be able to make a difference.

“In two meetings, we’ve accomplished some things and it looks promising,” he said.

It is important to win some victories early on, he said, which is why members are initially focusing on ideas for legislation that would likely receive minimal resistance from legislators. Setting and upholding minimum flows and levels, or MFLs, for various bodies of water is a key issue to which the group is devoting its attention. MFLs are the minimum water flows and levels that are determined as necessary to prevent significant harm from happening to the ecology or water resources of a body of water as a result of permitted water withdrawals.

Annette Long, president of Save Our Suwannee, which is a nonprofit centered around water quality and quantity issues, is happier with the new organization’s progress than she was as a member of FLOW.

“FLOW was too big,” she said. Leaders from different counties had different issues, so it was hard to pull together to support one particular idea.

“It just seemed like every meeting, they’d just put everything off until the next meeting,” she said.

The new group is smaller and has been more effective so far. Although Long hopes it will accomplish more than FLOW was able to, she knows the research and experience gained by members who have migrated from the now-defunct organization to this fledgling one will be helpful.

The new working group is more politically focused than FLOW was, which makes sense because the state’s water problem is largely a political one, according to Long.

Characterizing its main goal, she said: “It will be to try to change the hearts and minds of our Legislature and the governor.”

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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