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Goss on the forefront of South Florida’s water restoration efforts

By Staff | Feb 27, 2020

One of Southwest Florida’s own is making waves when it comes to restoring waterways in Florida.

Chauncey Goss, a Sanibel native and environmental stalwart, was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the South Florida Water Management District last January, where he now serves as board chair.

One year into his endeavors, Goss is encouraged with the progress made towards a healthier Southwest Florida aquatic ecosystem and has been a remarkable educational endeavor as well.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Goss said of his first year, “I’ve learned so much. The district is really complicated. I’ve used the term ‘Rubik’s Cube’ before, because it sort of is — to get all of the sides the same color is virtually impossible, but we’re working on it. In order to do that, there’s just a lot to learn.”

Goss has been learning about water quality for some time now, beginning with his work as the executive director of the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association on Boca Grande in the early 1990s.

From there, he became a city council member in Sanibel. That’s where his involvement with the clean water movement spiked — notably after the 2016 discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

“As a result of that, I started paying more attention to state water policy and becoming more involved in state water policy,” Goss said.

For someone who cares about the community as much as Goss does — especially since his father helped incorporate the city — seeing the economy battered and toxic algae come down once pristine waterways was a concerning and alarming event.

He and what he called an “extremely active council” got to work on what they could do to lessen the blow and become part of the solution to the crisis.

“Sanibel sits at the very end of the Caloosahatchee and we’re sort of the catcher’s mitt for all the stuff that comes out of there,” Goss said. “If it’s not good, we’re impacted. So as a council member, that’s something we take seriously.”

He’s encouraged that the topic of water quality has stayed at the forefront of the public’s eyes, for the time being, and is encouraged with the conversations he hears as he moves from community to community, understanding the unique needs of each municipality.

“It used to be some of the environmentalist saying, ‘We need clean water.’ Now, it’s not just that,” Goss said. “We’ve got the whole economic community through the Chamber (of Commerce) behind us, behind the movement. And the movement isn’t for anything crazy, it’s trying to get the estuaries to operate as they should — because when they do, it’s going to help our economy and our environment.

“It’s now in our lexicon and in our daily conversation to say, ‘Hey we need to take care of this.’ And that’s a huge step forward.”

Goss can remember what it was like growing up on an island that is essentially paradise — and touts itself as such. In recent years, though, water quality issues have intruded, and that’s something Goss is hopeful to reverse with his and his team’s work at the SFWMD.

“For me, personally, water quality is important because I grew up here and I remember what it was like,” Goss said. “I’ve got kids and will potentially have grandkids in the next decade and I want to make sure that they can have (clean water) and not what we’ve seen in the last decade, which really has been substandard.

“We need to do a better job as a state of making sure we manage the water better and making sure that the stuff going into the water — we need to control our nutrients better. We need to make sure we’re taking care of our backyard and on Sanibel, we’re pretty serious about it.”

Goss said that despite his new post, the basic goal is the same: improving water quality in Florida.

“Different issues, different water management district, but same overall concept of how to make sure we get the right amount of fresh water to the estuaries at the most appropriate time,” Goss said. “That’s really key.”

While his net certainly has a wider cast these days, Goss invests his time in getting to know each need of the communities he serves, which include those in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, as well as a slice of Charlotte.

“My responsibilities are to Southwest Florida, but as chairman, I basically try and make sure I understand every issue,” Goss said. “So I spend a little extra effort trying to get to understand what everyone else is dealing with so I can put the puzzle together — because it really is a big puzzle.”

He believes through thorough and detailed work, along with a drive and crisp troubleshooting tactics, this edition of the SFWMD can really make a difference.

“I do expect us to be able to target those areas that are a problem,” Goss said. “And we can do that through monitoring and figure out what areas are problems and then we can offer those communities assistance and say, ‘Look, you’ve got a real problem here, it’s impacting all of our water. It’s in everyone’s interest to fix that, so let’s figure out how to do that.’

“Whether it’s a loan or whatever it is, we’re going to come up with a mechanism to do that for you to help you with that.”

A big part of the work of the SFWMD is to oversee some key projects that are part of CERT — or, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Key components of that plan — which was implemented decades ago — are the C-43, C-44 and EAA Reservoirs.

Though Goss is not thrilled about the time it has taken to have these plans come to fruition, they will help bolster changes of less toxic discharges down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.

“It’s huge,” Goss said of Everglades restoration projects. “The Everglades restoration — that’s that big money and that’s where we’re in a 50/50 partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers for CERP and we’re plugging away on that.”

The budget includes $360 million for Everglades restoration projects, a level of funding that will put Florida on track to complete the C-44 Reservoir and stormwater treatment area, the C-43 Reservoir, and 20 additional projects over the next five years. The projects will provide 672,000 acre-feet of storage and remove almost 200,000 pounds of total phosphorus annually, a major source of nutrient pollution. In addition, they will significantly reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee when combined with updates to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, as requested by Gov. DeSantis. The EAA Reservoir project will receive $107 million: $43 million above the annual $64 million to ensure that the state is moving forward with the projects needed to move water south. In addition, $40 million through the Department of Transportation’s work program is provided to speed up and complete the final phase to raise the Tamiami Trail, which will restore the flow of more than 900 million gallons per day of water flowing south.

These reservoirs also allow communities to request water in the dry season when it is needed. Goss said C-44 will be completed in 2021, with C-43 and the EAA Reservoirs to be completed in the next three-plus years.

The C-44 features a stormwater treatment area that is just about ready for use, while the C-43, which is on the Caloosahatchee side, is currently looking for the best water quality component to add. That’s an aspect of Goss and his team’s work for the district, and he’s happy to work alongside his peers — all of whom were brought in around roughly the same time after the resignation request of the entire board by DeSantis shortly before Goss” appointment.

“It’s great to have all of these different minds together,” Goss said of the board. “It’s a good board. The governor did a really good job, I think, of pulling this board together from scratch, which is very unusual. We all get along pretty well, and I think the glue there is the governor. He’s been pretty unambiguous about what he wants done and that makes our life a lot easier.”

The board is made up of nine appointees who represent areas from Orlando to the Keys. Goss said there is a beneficial mix of minds that include a builder, a cattle farmer, a lawyer, an elected official and other persons of expertise.

Goss said he has been impressed with DeSantis’ leadership when it comes to water quality. He was humbled to be tapped by Florida’s 46th governor.

“Very honored,” Goss said of his appointment. “A huge honor to be asked. I think one of the reasons he asked me is because I do understand policy and that there needed to be some change on the board where we needed to work on things like transparency and getting back to the fact that this is a public agency, not a private agency — your tax dollars help fund everything we do and all of the decisions we make should be based on everyone’s collective good and making sure we balance to make sure the coasts and the coastal voices are heard, along with the inland and agricultural voices, so there’s a good balance between the two. That’s something that I take very seriously.”

Two things he pointed out about DeSantis is his executive order on his first day in office, calling for $625 in recurring funding for Everglades restoration over the next four years and the fact that he openly talks about wanting to better Florida’s waterways and see his children grow up in a state where water quality isn’t something to be concerned about.

“I’ve been around politics my whole life and I’ve seen a lot of people promise things and this guy actually followed through with it,” Goss said. “I take my hat off to him. There aren’t a lot of people who always do that because you get there and you realize that governing is hard and it’s easier to say stuff on the campaign trail. He’s really held to it. I’m excited on his vision for the state.”

Goss believes the time is now to make a massive impact on water quality policy, regulations and projects with the polarization of the issue and a governor who seems serious about making strides.

“We need to keep the pressure on,” Goss said. “We have a small window here. I’d like to be naive and think that we’re going to be doing this for the next 20 years, but I don’t. I think the window — with the governor, with the legislature, with everything sort of coming together, we’ve got a really nice confluence of events that makes it so that we can make progress right now. That’s why, from the water management district standpoint, we are pushing so hard to get what we can done, now done, so that we can make progress.”

So, what would Goss like to accomplish in his time at the SFWMD?

“I think what I’d like to see accomplished over the next couple years is making sure we get these big construction projects finished, and that takes care of, basically, my plumbing issues. So I’ve replumbed things so I can store some water — I can make sure I get rid of the toxic discharges,” Goss said. “Sort of the hard part, then, is making sure the water we do have coming out, is clean. Over the next 10 years I’d like to see what the state is going to do to start stepping forward to make sure we have good stormwater standards, to make sure we can deal with septic, to make sure we can deal with some of the legacy agricultural runoff — making sure that we do things that are smart there to keep the nutrients out of the water, because it’s a lot easier to keep them out than it is to take them out.”

Goss received his Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and earned his undergrad in Political Science, Environmental Studies and English from Rollins College.

Though he did move to Washington D.C. for some time, he returned to Sanibel, where he resides now, to raise his children.

Goss is the founder and managing partner of Goss Practical Solutions – a firm that provides federal fiscal policy analysis and budget forecasting. Prior to starting the firm, Goss served as deputy staff director and director of Budget Review for the House Budget Committee under Paul Ryan.

He still has a strong relationship with Sanibel and officials on the island and throughout Lee County.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj