What is the WRAC and Can Martin County Become the Bull Gator for the Indian River Lagoon?

WRAC the jaws behind the SFWMD? (Photo courtesy of Clyde Butcher)
Right now agriculture interests are perhaps the most powerful force, “the bull gator,” of the SFWMD’s WRAC. (Photo courtesy of Clyde Butcher.)

bull   (bo͝ol) n. 1. The male of certain large animals, such as the alligator, elephant, or moose that periodically fights upcoming bulls to maintain position or dominance. 2. An exceptionally large, strong, and aggressive person.

Perhaps the most important part of understanding our Indian River Lagoon water issues, is being honest about which interests have the most influence,  who has the power to change things, and learning  to take advantage of opportunities to become a competing bull gator at the table of water management.

Understanding the Water Resources Advisory Commission is a good place to start. The WRAC is a body that is appointed by the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board and represents a broad range of business, agricultural, environmental, tribal, governmental and public interests. It is an advisory board in essense to the SFWMD. (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/wrac)

The Chair and Vice Chair of the Commission are members of the SFWMD Governing Board. The Governing Board is appointed by the governor.

WRAC’s number one bull gator is not named “Alfred the Alligator,” but “Agi. How can I say this? Well I  have served as an alternate for three years.

Monthly, I have sat through the long meetings with detailed scientific presentations by the SFWMD on water issues; it’s enough to leave your mind completely fried by lunch time but incredibly insightful. The real fun starts when all the members are allowed to give their opinions and concerns. Unlike many public arenas, the WRAC allows its members to speak passionately and openly on their interests. The agriculture community is very powerful on this committee and represent status quo.

Historically the WRAC is relatively new, I believe created in the 1990s, however; Florida’s flood districts, (under various names,) the state of Florida, the Federal Government and Army Corp of Engineers have worked and advised each other how to drain lands in South Florida since the late 1800’s.

This was originally done to help the state’s fledgling agriculture industry. But the agriculture and draining machine grew up and went too far destroying the natural system of Sorth Florida.

In the 1970’s under Governor, Rubin Askew, the water districts were restructured and received an additional mission to “flood control,” that of restoring the Everglades.  And in 1994, the “Florida Forever Act” made clear the public expected their government to preserve Florida’s natural future.  (River of Interest, Water Management in South Florida an dthe Everglades 1948-2010,” 2011)

This new mission to restore and not just to “drain and maintain” is struggling to find its footing, as history is a heavy cloak to change. This change will only come through the people–mind you, WRAC is an extension of “the people.” The WRAC is a key.

Last Thursday in a rare and appreciated opportunity for Martin County, the SFWMD/ACOE allowed the county to hold its “After Action” meeting during the WRAC. Almost five hours were dedicated for the purpose of critique. 

The Commission first allowed Gary Goforth and Kevin Henderson, from Martin County, to present on how “more water could have gone south,” during the horrific summer of 2013. Then the SFWMD gave its response of why “it couldn’t.”

Basically, the District expounded upon their many “constraints” to sending more water south: the EAA’s legal flood protection; water quality standards;  a consent decree from the Federal Government requiring phosphorus levels to be 10 parts per billion once they reach the Everglades;  limited capacity in the Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs );  preference for EAA water over Lake Okeechobee water; flood protection of the east coast and towns south of the lake; the FWC, endanged species, and a restrictive Tamiami Trail, were the most obvious.

Representatives form the agriculture community were some the first to speak in support of the SFWMD’s presentation. In one case, the “water game” was cited, a game that is used to teach how difficult is is to manage the water. “I challenge any of you to have done better,” in essence, was said. The room was silent.

Then the  conversation continued and something interesting happened.

Representatives other than Martin County started asking questions of the top gators…

“How far does the EAA have to keep the water level down in its fields? Could the EAA grow rice or another crop that would allow for more water on the fields? “Could the water go another way? ” Perhaps naive, but there was a clear voice to look for answers for the plight of the estuaries reflected in the questions of many on the commission.

It may not seem like much right now, but I do believe Thursday’s meeting was one that could allow Martin County to evolve from years at the table as a baby gator into that of a bull. As the only way to remain “on top” is to have the support of your fellow alligators….

4 thoughts on “What is the WRAC and Can Martin County Become the Bull Gator for the Indian River Lagoon?

  1. Facebook comment:
    By Sean Murphy
    Nitrogen was not mentioned. That is a major component that the special interests want to avoid. When Nitrogen builds to certain levels, it is nearly impossible to get rid of. That is a real red flag. Also, mercury has been an issue that many agencies and BIG AG wants to avoid.
    11 hours ago · Edited · Like · 2

    Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch You’re right I should mention nitrogen …unfortunatly I do no believe nitrogen has is mentionedin the consent decree…thank you Sean Murphy

    1. Good observations and comments Jacqui !
      Maybe they should all come out with me on the boat and see how obviously high the nutrient level still is in my plankton net and how minimal the life still is in what is
      supposed to be our dry season. At this time of the year our water should be excellent quality, full of juvenile life, and good light source getting to our grass beds. I still can’t show my plankton net pulls at high tide or low tide where the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon meet until the algae settles to the bottom.

      Thank you Jacqui….I think you are our Bull Gator!

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