WEST PALM BEACH — Back by popular demand — the South Florida Water Management District has announced a revival of the WRAC, and once again the acronym will have new meaning.
WRAC originally stood for Water Resources Advisory Commission and more recently was called Water Resources Analysis Coalition, WRAC included representatives from South Florida businesses, water supply utilities, agriculture, public interest groups, local government and environmental organizations.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis took office, all of the WRAC meetings were canceled, leaving some stakeholders concerned that their views will no longer be considered by SFWMD officials.
At the April SFWMD meeting, members of the public asked SFWMD to bring back WRAC.
Mike Collins, a WRAC member who represented Florida Keys and Florida Bay, said before WRAC was established, “the board would have 100 people show up and 50 of them would have torches and pitchforks and say ‘if you don’t do A, B and C we’re going to sue you,’ and the other 50 people would say ‘if you do A, B and C, we’re going to sue.’ If you stick them in a room and make them talk to each other, they might come up with option D,” he said.
“Get them in a room, educate them, show them what the district can do, what the district can’t do. People sit down, they come up with solutions,” he said.
“The issues are complex,” said Beth Lewis of the Nature Conservancy, who was also a WRAC member. She said the stakeholders coming together at the WRAC meetings provided input in a way that the public comment periods at board meetings could not. WRAC meetings allowed people to come together and actually understand each other, she explained. “It is very difficult for people do that,” she said.
“Agriculture wants to continue to be a partner with water management district,” said Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau. “We’ve always had a seat at the table with you all. Right now I really don’t see a seat for agriculture up here.” (None of the current SFWMD governing board members has a background in agriculture, and as of the August meeting the SFWMD seat that is to represent the interior counties had still not been filled by Gov. DeSantis.)
Pete Quasius of Audubon of Southwest Florida said the stakeholders forum allows people to meet those with different backgrounds and learn from them. “We got to meet people we would not have met otherwise,” he said. I sat with the sugar lady. I sat with my ag friends. I sat with the environmental people.”
At the Aug. 8 meeting, SFWMD announced the return of WRAC, which now stands for Water Resources Accountability and Collaboration.
All WRAC meetings will be streamed live online. The WRAC Public Forum is an open forum consisting of designated representatives from stakeholder groups such as members of environmental groups, public interest groups, the business community, agriculture, water supply utilities and local governments. The forum will meet periodically to give a balanced representation of the diverse perspectives and viewpoints on water resource issues.
The forum will facilitate public discussion, participation and comment on critical water management issues and will serve to gather information, facts and viewpoints.
Applications for those who wish to join the WRAC public forum as a representative of a stakeholder group will be available online, no later than Aug. 16, on SFWMD.gov.
WRAC will also include an advisory body that the SFWMD governing board may call on for help. When issues arise that require the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board to seek specific recommendations or explore specific topics, the board may create an ad hoc body. This body will meet upon direction from the governing board. At this time, no WRAC ad hoc advisory bodies have been activated.