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Dr. Wendy Graham invited to speak on water panel at the second annual Sayfie Review: Florida Leaders Summit (December 4-5, 2014) ,

Water Institute director Dr. Wendy Graham was invited to attend the 2014 Sayfie Review Florida Leaders Summit and speak on the Water Panel. The Summit, held on Dec. 4-5 in Orlando, brought together Florida’s top leaders; the mission of the Summit is “Engaging Florida’s Leaders, Shaping Florida’s Agenda, Prospering Florida’s Future.”

Dr. Graham spoke at the Water Breakout Session, moderated by Steve Seibert, Partner with trisect LLC. The two other panelists included U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and State Representative Matt Caldwell. Seibert introduced the panel and stressed the importance of water: “it is the lifeblood of our economy and our entire society… water is what ties us together as Floridians. It is the theme that unites our self image, our culture, and very much our history, and yet we often tend to treat it with ambivalence.”

In his introduction, he mentioned the decline of Florida’s water resources, including the “world class springs” that are now clouded with vegetation, the BP oil spill, “unswimmable” lakes, the “catastrophe” in the Indian River Lagoon, and the reduction in flow of the “mighty” Apalachicola River. But despite these negative changes, Seibert said Floridians still choose to use over half of their water on lawns. He noted that Floridians have an “awkward” relationship with water despite many successful and progressive programs to conserve and restore water.

He asked the panelists to think about the following question as they prepared for the Summit: “From your perspective, what is the most important thing that this audience needs to know about water in Florida today and 10 years from now?”

Dr. Graham said “this is an area where we in Florida have the capacity to do good and to do well,” suggesting that Florida has “abundant water resources” and “a population who cares,” as well as laws to protect Florida’s water resources and a pool of talented managers and scientists.

She kept an optimistic tone while also noting that moving forward, we need to focus on Florida’s water quality problem. “We’ve already broken that link between growing population, growing economy, and growing water use and we need to keep at that, but I’m really optimistic that we have the tools in hand to deal with that,” Graham said, adding “the thing I think we need to work harder at and build a coalition about is the water quality problem. I think it’s a thornier problem to deal with.” She suggested that as a 10-year goal, we need a better understanding of climate cycles and we need to deal with nutrient enrichment, and between now and then, we should focus on water use.

Seibert also specifically asked Dr. Graham about the role of higher education: “What does higher education add to this conversation? Don’t you guys just ponder this stuff in your cubicles?” Seibert asked, causing laughter in the audience.

“At the University of Florida Water Institute, our role is to sharpen and clarify what the tradeoffs are associated with the decisions we make,” Graham explained. “As our population grows, the promise that everybody can have everything they want, I personally believe is not true. So our desire for clean water, green lawns, cheap food, and low taxes, at some point are clashing with each other. So I believe our job is to crystalize the tradeoffs among those things and let the policymakers do the difficult job of deciding where to go on that tradeoff curve.”

The conversation continued, including a discussion of how to best engage congress in water challenges, and discussing the roles of the government, citizens, and others besides academia and education in helping deal with Florida’s water issues.

Access the full-length video of the Water Breakout Session here

By Jenny Adler