Photo: Gregg Matthews
Water challenges at SFWMD
Daniel O'Keefe, new chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, discusses what's coming up for the District.
Daniel O’Keefe, a real estate attorney in the Orlando office of Shutts & Bowen, is the new chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency that oversees water resources in the Everglades and 16 counties.
O’Keefe, a Windermere resident appointed to the panel by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, was elected chairman by fellow board members earlier this year. He succeeds Joe Collins of Sebring, an agribusiness executive whose four-year term expired in March.
Although most of the district’s territory is in south Florida, it includes part of the city of Orlando and Orange County south to the Keys. The sprawling region encompasses Osceola County and the Kissimmee River, which flows to Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and coastal estuaries.
O’Keefe, 45, talks about the challenges he faces:
» I’ve lived here in central Florida for 33 years, and the focus up here is the St. Johns (River, and St. Johns Water Management District). We don’t have the constant concerns about flooding here that they do in south Florida, but it’s all connected, and water here eventually ends up in Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
» Yes, we’ve had to do a lot of belt tightening, operating with less revenue and a smaller staff, but the district is in good shape. We’re still meeting the core missions of protecting water quality, flood control, natural systems and water systems.
» When I started (in 2011), the budget was just a little over $1 billion for operations and some land acquisition, that fiscal year, which was just ending when I came on board. The budget’s now about $600 million, annual recurring expenses.
» We have an $880-million plan, a 12-year budget item, for restoring water quality, improving water before it gets to the Everglades, with part of that paid by the district and part by the Legislature. Some of it would be from our reserves, but we think that with a commitment of about $30 million a year from the state, we can fund that $880-million Everglades project and make it work.
» Our runoff from (Orlando’s) Shingle Creek makes it to the Kissimmee chain and Lake Okeechobee, and that’s ultimately got to be cleansed. Storing more on private and public lands during the wet season, rather than just flushing it out — that’s been a successful and effective strategy, paying for that storage instead of just buying more land.
» Two other items also are a focus of mine: An assessment of lands — the district owns something like 1.4 million acres. We really need to take a serious look at that and ask ourselves, ‘Is it serving its purpose?’ If some is not, and we’re just paying to own it, should it be (sold as) surplus? We could take the money and find better ways to use those dollars. And the last thing is water supply. Just how much do we have? From all sources, surface, aquifer and alternatives such as reuse and desal, and what about the next 30 to 40 years? We expect to have a draft water-supply plan by September.