Noah Valenstein has been the Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District since September 2015. Valenstein served as the Environmental Policy Coordinator for Governor Rick Scott. He came to the district with thirteen years of public service experience with governmental agencies. Valenstein also brings an abundance of experience with public private partnerships. He was born in Gainesville, Florida and graduated with honors from the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He also has a law degree from Florida State University.
By Noah Valenstein
Suwannee River Management District, Executive Director
Water is an invaluable resource. It is integral to every aspect of our lives– from life to livelihood. Thankfully, agencies and policies exist to protect water and provide for its use.
Unfortunately, difficult natural resource challenges have often created an environment of winners and losers with seemingly opposing interests. However, in reality, we want the same thing – to ensure water quality and quantity for future generations and maintain our North Florida way of life.
Though the mission is simple, the task is great. The 15 north-central Florida counties that make up the Suwannee River Water Management District face resource impacts that are unique to our district and Florida. On a daily basis, the district faces planning, policy and regulatory challenges based on cross-boundary water quantity impacts, nutrient loading and pollution, groundwater levels and trends, lack of awareness, and competing interests of water users.
But, regardless of the task – we are up for the challenge.
The district has reinvigorated its approach to policy and planning to meet the growing needs of our district through:
Collaborative, regional water planning
Regional water planning is imperative to anticipating the needs of the district and future regulatory actions. In 2016, working with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the district developed the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan which outlines water needs for the next 20 years. As a result of the plan, the districts are expected to need an additional 117 million gallons per day of water by 2035 (SRWMD and SJRWMD, 2017). As a result of that finding, the district has actively developed projects to offset the increase in water needs to protect the resource while providing for growth. This collaborative plan was the first of its kind to be developed in North Florida and is driving further collaborative efforts for research, modeling and water use allocations.
Strong stakeholder partnerships
Partnerships are the underpinning of effective policy. The district actively engages with local communities and stakeholders to gather input and share information. More recently, the district has revived the Suwannee River Partnership to address water quality and quantity needs in the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers to include key environmental and agricultural partners. These groups will sit at the same table and work together to identify critical issues for the partnership and district to address.
Responsive, data-driven programs
The district proactively utilizes data to update or change existing programs for the betterment of the resource and its users. These programs include the establishment of minimum flows, minimum levels (MFLs), water resource caution areas, best management practices, wetlands protection, flood protection, nutrient reduction and others. In fact, the district established 27 MFLs on major water bodies in our area between 2005 and 2016; with an additional 11 MFLs expected to be in rule by 2018. These MFLs define sensitive water areas and drive water management policy for other district programs. Additionally, the district offers cost-share programs which provide financial assistance to farmers to encourage water conservation and nutrient reduction practices. To date, 850 irrigation system evaluations have been conducted resulting in estimated water savings of over six million gallons per year.
As our district grows, the challenges we face regarding water usage become more complex. Regional perspectives, an inclusive philosophy and sound science are required to develop effective policies – without them, our policies won’t hold water.
SRWMD and SJRWMD. (2017). North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (2015-2035) and Appendices. SRWMD, Live Oak, FL. SJRWMD, Palatka, FL. Available from: http://northfloridawater.com/watersupplyplan/document.html