ENVIRONMENT

Water drives South Florida’s economy

 

LRTaseff@duanemorris.com

I freely admit it. I am not a scientist. I am not a water manager. I don’t know the alphabet soup of acronyms of Everglades restoration or the names of the canals and water control structures.

But I am a South Florida property owner and businessperson, directly affected by water issues. And it doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand why environmentalists are so concerned about funding water management district budgets.

As a property owner, confidence in water management is a necessity.

South Florida abounds with waterfront properties — not just on the beach but also on canals, rivers, and other waterways. A gorgeous waterfront view increases a property’s value. But it is also a risk. When storms hit, we depend on the water management district to quickly flow water off the property for flood control. As our region copes with sea level rise in the future, there will be even more threats from flooding. Alton Road in South Beach already floods regularly from rising tides.

As a property owner, one of the other things you fear is having the water shut off. During the 2011 dry season, West Palm Beach was 22 days away from running out of water for its residents. With increased pressures on our water resources through a growing population, we might be out of water before we are under water. We depend on our public agencies to support adequate water supplies for development in the future.

Fortunately, there is a large public agency that is supposed to manage flood control and water supplies, along with ecosystem restoration. It is called the South Florida Water Management District.

But in recent years there have been deep cuts to its budget — under the guise of cutting out wasteful spending to lower taxes for . . . property owners. This week, the district’s Governing Board is considering decreasing their revenues even more.

OK, I get it if an agency is spending freakish amounts of money on things not essential to its mission — like lavish conferences in Las Vegas or even golf carts to shuttle people 20 feet in the parking lot.

But the cuts in the last few years have been so deep that they are threatening our way of life. The SFWMD created a spend-down plan from its reserves, but it is quickly being depleted and will be running on fumes. And because of a quirk in the system for assessing property values in Miami-Dade through the Value Adjustment Board, last year there was a shortfall of almost $5 million. This year there will likely be a shortfall of over $3 million.

Do we really want to force a public agency to choose between updating levees to hold back flood water or completing a restoration project that supports our future population’s water supply? Is it really a bright idea to significantly deplete funding water conservation programs and alternative water supply projects? SFWMD is even considering selling off lands acquired for conservation purposes to help fill in the budget gaps. They shouldn’t have to be in this position.

The ironic thing is that budget cuts are supposed to help property owners from paying more taxes. But instead, it exposes property owners to heightened risks from flooding, water shortages, and long-term loss of value. The difference in property tax for the average homeowner is minimal — less than the cost of a slice of pizza. That is a small price to pay for certainty in water management.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff is a lawyer in Miami and Audubon Florida board member.

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