by Kasamba Kokayi, Special to Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
Florida depends on water. Just like anywhere else, water is essential for life.
Here, the beauty of the water and nature around it are essential for tourism and agriculture. The question is: Who decides how the water is distributed, who can do what with the water, and what are the laws surrounding water and the environment?
It's surprising that in a state that depends on its water so much, most of its citizens can't answer those questions. The answer is the water management districts. For decades these organizations have made the decisions regarding water in Florida. The problem is most people still can't tell you much about them.
In 2003, the Suwannee River Water Management district reached out to the University of Florida's Samuel Proctor Oral History Program with a solution: an oral history project dedicated to telling the history of Florida's unique situation with water management and its inner workings from some of the most influential people in Florida water management. The Florida Water Management Project is a collection of 58 interviews, giving intimate details of how water management in Florida began and the laws and concepts surrounding it.
During its inception, one of the project's goals was to educate the people of Florida and to create some sort of resource website for the project. That has long since been forgotten, but now the project is online and available to the public via the University of Florida Digital collections. Anyone in the state can now access this wonderful wealth of information.
As Floridians we all have a duty to be a part of what happens to our water. Not only does the state depend on the water economically but so does its environment and citizens. We all need to be a part of the process of what happens with our water. Otherwise, it can fall into the hands of corporate interests.
The Florida Water Management Project was intended to educate the people of Florida, but in 2010 when Rick Scott came into office he put an end to that. The project was left in limbo for almost a decade.
Some of the people in our government don't want us to know the details of water management, and they don't want us to know what they are doing with our money. Even recently, Seven Springs Water Co. got a renewal on their contract to pump water out of Ginnie Springs, even though the Suwannee River Water Management District initially did not approve of it. Now Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed two new members to the Suwannee River district board, members who represent his interests.
Water management in Florida has been historically led by environmentalists. Those who worked on the boards for the water management districts were never paid. When people tried to abuse the power of their positions, they were swiftly removed. This was done to protect the land and the water of our beautiful state.
To continue protecting our state and our water all citizens should understand the water management districts and what they do.
When you let your grass grow tall, it's easy for vermin to make their way into your yard.
I encourage anyone who reads this to visit https://bit.ly/floridawatermanagement and read or listen to some of the interviews in the Florida Water Management Project.
Kasamba Kokayi is a UF graduate and the coordinator for the Florida Water Management Project at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.