Thursday, June 28, 2007

Governance Rehab Comes Calling in Florida: Water and Turf Wars

Wherever I go I like to study the local environment, see what’s going on. Being from water plentiful Canada, the water woes of Floridians caught my attention on a recent trip to Jupiter. With water levels perilously low due to sporadic rainfall, saving water is emerging as a major issue. But taking such action is not so easy with entrenched policies that prevent effective individual action. Silly stories abound pointing to policy-making at its worst.

Take a homeowner on Marcos Island, near Naples. City officials made him get rid of $15,000.00 worth of artificial grass in 2005 on the grounds it was offensive and might pose an environmental hazard. In protest, he painted his house with polka dots.

Developers and home owners associations fare no better in their strategy to conserve water. Or, should I suggest—anti-strategy? Near Orlando, a resident tried replacing sod with plantings that required less water. The developer stopped him in his tracks. These stories are increasingly reported across the state. Many homeowners’ associations still require grass lawns with certain shades of green. Alternatives such as sturdy ground cover and drought-resistant plants are not allowed. The battle is heating up as more enlightened homeowners defy the out of date policies.

Leading change is one of the most difficult aspects of leadership. Florida’s water and turf wars illustrate just how much leaders from the grassroots level upward cling to tradition often far beyond when the facts are in. Many hope that other solutions such as desalination of water will provide the needed respite and off set any need for water conservation. Others might want to lead the way but are caught with so many competing interests, they don’t know where to start. But, non-action and placing one’s trust in hope comes with high risk. The situation can quickly devolve into folly and cause untold extra costs.

There are times when political action is the only way for change to happen at the pace that is required. The water issue seems fragmented with no coherent strategy. As with all change, that’s the beginning of the journey. At this stage of the issue, politicians are well-positioned to bring some coherence to a vital quality of life issue. Good policy sooner rather than later can guide sensible action right down to the homeowners’ associations.

In the absence of comprehensive poitical action, courageous individuals and researchers will continue to put forth their ideas. The debate will get louder. A politician somewhere, if not already, will step forward. In the end, it is individual action that counts no matter who you are.

No comments: