In this episode, Brett has a conversation with recently retired Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Chief of Staff – Jennifer Fitzwater. They discuss how a kid from the Midwest makes her way to law school and a career in resource protection; what it’s like to have been the Chief of Staff for two separate state agencies; the difficult and complicated work going into solving challenges like manatee habitat loss and red tide; and what life’s been like since she rowed off into the sunset.
To learn more about what the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does, go here: https://myfwc.com
To learn more about manatee protection efforts, check here:
https://myfwc.com/research/manatee/rescue-mortality-response/ume/ and here: https://www.manateerescue.org
Jennifer also spoke about her concerns regarding Lyme Disease and its potential impact on state workers who spend their days outside. To learn more about the disease and those risks, go here: https://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/lyme-disease/index.html and here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2213078018300100
Welcome to Water for Fighting, where we discuss the past, present, and future of water in Florida where the people make it happen. I’m your host, Brett Seifers. I’m so excited to introduce this week’s guest, Jennifer Fitzwater. Jennifer spent the last 30 years in public service, but I first met her in 2003 when she was the Legislative Affairs Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She would go on to become the Chief of Staff of that agency and ultimately retired as the Chief of Staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Now onto the conversation. Welcome to the podcast, Jennifer. Thanks, Brett. Glad to be here. So you retired from public service last September after a 30 year run state government How’s retired life treating you? Retired life is awesome Yeah, retired life is great Brett. Well before we started recording you talked about how that happened Which was like the immediate decompression going to was it Europe? I did I went to I went to Europe So the short version of the long story is I retired on Friday, Saturday. I was on an airplane to France where we spent three two and a half weeks. Wow. Awesome. So yeah, it was easy to kind of walk away and change get a change in mindset. Yeah. And we’ll get to some of that mindset in a little bit, but I want to start by going all the way back to the beginning. in St. Louis, Missouri, which I did not know before I saw your your bio, but you still have immediate family there, right? I do. All of my immediate family, my father and my brother, both still are in St. Louis, so I go there somewhat regularly to visit folks and, you know, kind of go go to the old stomping grounds. What was Jennifer Fitzwater like as a kid? I mean, did you enjoy the outdoors? I did. I did. I was an athlete from when I was very young. I started gymnastics when I was five, so there was a lot of that. But as far as family life and growing up in my neighborhood, we were always outside. Our neighborhood had woods right behind the neighborhood and a big field, so me and the neighborhood kids were always out getting into trouble. Every year our vacations we went camping to all the state parks throughout Missouri. So we spent a lot of time outside. That’s some gorgeous ones there too. What was your favorite in around there? When I was a kid, Elephant Rocks State Park, which is southeast part of the state, was always a fun one. Merrimack River State Park. That was close to St. Louis. But I had an opportunity. ago to go back up to Missouri in the south central part of Missouri to go to one of their newest state parks, Echo Bluff State Park. And that is beautiful. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s in the Ozark Mountains, kind of midway between Poplar Bluff and Springfield. Wow. You mentioned gymnastics. You’re a competitive rower. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been a competitive rower. Did you do rowing back then as well or other sports, No, growing up it was mostly gymnastics. We did a little bit of track and field, but nothing as much as gymnastics. I started rowing in 1998 here in Tallahassee. So after I was out of college, had a job, been working for a few years, I saw a little ad in the Newspen, the Tallahassee Democrat, hey, did you ever want to learn how to row? And I was like, that. So going back to Missouri, you got your undergraduate degree in Missouri. Tell me about I want to understand the distinction. Yeah, I just think it’s all in Mizzou, but is it in my mind is University of Missouri Columbia? University of Missouri, Columbia is what people think of as Mizzou. And yes, that’s where I did my undergraduate work. But you ended up at Alvern University graduate school, is that right? Correct. How did you get, why Auburn? Like how did you get to Auburn? Great question. When I was at the University of Missouri, my undergraduate degree was in Fisheries and Wildlife Science and I wanted to, after I got my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to go on to get my master’s degree. And so I was looking for professors around the country in wildlife on things that I wanted to work on. And there was a professor at Auburn University doing waterfowl research. So I went down to work with him. That was really how I got to Auburn. It had nothing to do with the school itself, or the location. It was all about going down and working with him. Oh, that’s, I mean, that’s really, you know, that’s cool to see something like that and then go after it in that way. It was a little bit of a culture shock, I guess. growing up St. Louis. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Auburn, but in 1986, it was really small. I have a cousin and I don’t know if she’ll hear this podcast ever, but she went to Auburn University the same time and was in some of the same classes as Bo Jackson. And so it was that same period. I wasn’t in that way. But she seemed to love it, but it was a small school, right? The school, I mean, Auburn was the school. I mean, you know, the town, it was there, you know, at least when I was there. It’s certainly grown since I’ve been there. So you’re, you’re undergrad and your graduate degrees, both in, and again. And so obviously, when you, you talk to your master’s degree and wildlife science, you know, under your you obviously go to law school. Obviously, because that’s what everyone did. Did any of your classmates go to law school? No, and I don’t know anyone in the wildlife program, whether Missouri or at Auburn that’s ever gone to law school, nor have I met a fellow lawyer that has a wildlife degree. So, no, it was not the most common thing to do. Yeah. So why? So when I was, as I mentioned, when I went to Auburn, it was to do, to work with my major professor on waterfowl research. I quickly learned that I didn’t have the patience to do field work and data collection. My master’s thesis was dealing with wood ducks and their nesting behavior, and to get enough data to be statistically significant. worth of data collection. And I knew what the answer to the hypothesis was going to be two months in. So I, yeah, I didn’t have the patience to do it. Well, that’s the, that’s the magic of being an attorney I hear is being, being right both all the time and immediately. So playing, playing to your strengths there then. Yeah. Yeah. So right out of law school, you go straight to the Department of Environmental Was that before it merged you know with DNR to become DEP as we know it now I Started with the Department of Environmental Regulation in October of 92 the A couple things happened The secretary at the time when I started was Carol Browner President Clinton tapped her to be secretary of EPA December of and she was confirmed in January of 93. That year, 93, the Florida legislature combined Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Regulation. So I can’t, I think that was a March, May session. So, you know, starting May is when that transition started to take place. So, you know, six months in, I was at a new place. That’s, yeah, that’s crazy. I mean, feel like there was some sort of bait and switch or was it just like, Hey, you know, I’m right out of law school. This is how it’s going to be. And you just go, yeah, it was, it was just, we, we all went with the flow. I mean, for the most part, the two agencies were doing, so I was in the legal office at the time. So all of the lawyers that were with the department of environmental regulation, they were dealing with, you know, regulatory aspects of things. they were dealing with totally different things. So it wasn’t like there was a turf war over who’s gonna get the job to do whatever. We were all just doing very different things. Were they shocked to have, so you have the merge and your DER and these DNR scientists are looking over and they find out this lawyer is actually a scientist. I mean, did that help in that merge period or to give you street cred with your DNR partners? You know, honestly, at the beginning of the merger, I didn’t really have a whole lot of interaction with many of the DNR folks. Again, I was working, when I started in the General Counsel’s office, I was working on water issues. So mostly industrial wastewater issues. So when we merged, I was still doing those kinds of things. So I didn’t. certainly a wildlife degree wasn’t of any particular import to, you know, industrial wastewater, but the science behind it I think was helpful if for no other reason than just to understand conversations that people were having and you know kind of have that basic science background was helpful. For people like me who do not have you know hard sciences background it takes you a lot longer to learn the vocabulary and a lot more listening to understand what folks are saying. But you mentioned the type of case. I think at one point you mentioned you also worked on Everglades related issues. Or was it largely just, hey, we’re just doing compliance issues and things like that. So I did a little bit of all of it. So kind of the trajectory, if you will. When I started I was, I also handled some domestic wastewater issues. Those aren’t really very exciting and they’re all pretty similar around the state. Give me some poor utility guy out there saying, but I think it’s a similar. Yeah, they’re very, I mean, they’re important. Yeah, it’s important. But it’s not glamorous headline unless of course there’s some sort of spill or something. I was very fortunate that I got to work on some pretty high profile cases and the industrial, wastewater area. So worked on a couple big paper mill cases, a lot of phosphate industry cases. And I got to work on and I, you may remember this from a long time ago, but I had an opportunity to work on a project. I think this was like mid 90s, mid to late 90s. It was in Tampa Bay. It was the Tampa, Tampa water resource recovery project. And Fascinating project that I think was just way ahead of its time. It was an indirect portable reuse project. Oh, okay But the process that they used or that we used was just very different and it was designed that so that everybody all the regulators from the federal state and local side of things all of the engineers from the project side of things all of the public were throughout the entire process. So that at the end, every permit was going to be issued at one time and it was a fascinating project. It took a lot of work and a lot of time. A lot of people were involved and unfortunately it was just I say it was ahead of its time because people were not ready. People in the Tampa Bay region were not ready to you know take Howard F. Curran wastewater and put it in the Hillsborough River just upstream from the water, drinking water intake. But that issue, as all issues do, is back, right? And I think the level of discomfort is changed to something else to maybe more of a recognition of reality in that sense. I think so. I think so. I think back then it was just so, we weren’t in the position that we are now our water resources. So I think there’s just more acceptance of, hey, we’re gonna really have to be creative to provide for our water supply issues. It seems like that process, it’s an interesting one and one that I’ve seen a few times and I’m gonna throw an acronym out there and not knowing what it stands for. ETDM, do you remember? Oh yeah, Efficient Transportation Decision Yeah. Matrix sounds more fun. Matrix sounds more fun. But that mean, but that was, it’s a successful way of bringing people into understanding the, surprising that that’s not used more often. Well, it was a, it was a hard process because not only, so you’ve got a couple of different state agencies and so for that particular project, you had a couple of different state agencies. You had the federal government there. So you had the Corps of Engineers. had the Environmental Protection Agency. So that comes with all of the federal rules of what they can talk about and what they can share in an open forum. And then you have the public. I mean, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. Yeah, and then the disappointment at getting to the end of it is like, okay, well, that was fun. Well, that was really fun. It was great working with all of you. I got a piece of the, I got a square of the card. bit from the room we were in. Oh, that’s hilarious. It’s a memento. Fair enough. All that to say, I had a real opportunity because of the bosses that I had that they let me work on some of these projects, which then led me into working on Everglades issues. Nice. And the assumption is that over that period of time, you show yourself capable of working across other working on big issues and that leads me to when I met you. I think it was probably 2002, 2003 at the latest and you were already the Legislative Affairs Director at the department. Right. But that had started pretty soon before that, is that right? It started, I started working on legislative issues while I was still on The general counsel at the time really had the foresight to go to the legislative affairs director and say, hey, it would be really helpful if you had a lawyer helping with reviewing legislation, drafting legislation, helping on that end on a full-time basis. I mean, certainly there was always the consultive process where they come back. to do it full time. So I started working with the legislative affairs department probably around 99 maybe 1999, which then led to doing congressional work in the 99-2000 era, which going back to Everglades, that was the time period when SERP was being negotiated, written, and developed. So. Wow. I mean, what an interesting time though to be put into a position like that. Yeah. It was surprising to me, honestly. Because I was, you know, didn’t even have 10 years under my belt. And it was, hey, go to Washington, figure this stuff out. This is so then you’ve demonstrated another facet of aptitude then in terms of dealing with, you know, legislative issues, policy issues. So I was going to ask like this, was that transition hard going from what you’re doing before to being in the guts of an agency to being in front of legislators? But you were doing that. You were essentially already doing that, except on a more federal level. And then did you get pulled into some of those conversations with the state legislature as well during that period? I did. I did. I had the legislature. legislative affairs director at the time was gracious enough to allow me to be part of the conversation and to have that opportunity. So before I became legislative affairs director, I had some experience. And as I talk about all of these things that I’ve worked on, recognize Everglades, SERP, all of these things. There’s an awful lot of people. involved in all of these projects. Oh, for sure. Right, so it’s not like, I have not single-handedly done anything. Sure, sure. I think we were talking earlier, I mean, there’s, you know, what, 4,000 people or something like that. I don’t know how many were, you know, DEP in 2000. Oh, I don’t either. A lot, still. A lot. And for something that big, obviously, there has to be a big team, but you then become, well, let me ask you first, who was that legislative affairs director before you? Oh, well, oh my goodness, was it? So and and so he’s the kind of guy that would Provide you the slack to go out there and and and learn and and be a part of stuff. Absolutely He was the the best mentor I have ever had That’s awesome. Awesome. I I don’t know why I didn’t but I did not know that yeah, and he This is how I think of my timing is by what governor was in office So Governor Bush’s second term, Mike went into chief of staff position. And so he asked me to be the legislative affairs director, which, you know, he and I both thought, well, this is going to be an interesting, you know, when you step out of a role and give it to somebody else, are you going to continue to like come back? Well, maybe you should do this way. Right. It was seamless. I mean, he was so respectful. full of the way I wanted to do things and the changes I wanted to make and it worked out very well. And that’s yeah that’s that’s great and so you become the essentially the voice of the agency certainly when it comes to other agencies to the legislature to the governor’s office for sure. Right. You know I spent very little time in those days talking to Mike Jordan and and a great talking to you as you’re trying to teach me what the heck is going on. And you were nicer than I deserved in those days, I think. So you went on to become Chief of Staff at DEP. Let’s go ahead since you’re time stamping based on Governor, which Governor’s office was that when you became Chief of Staff? Do you recall? Chief of Staff was under Governor Scott. So I had a stint in there as Deputy Secretary under Governor Christ. Doing which which depth sector? Well, it doesn’t really exist at this point anymore, I don’t think. So it was kind of the we called it policy and planning. So we had legislative affairs, intergovernmental programs, which was at the time our liaison with Department of Community Affairs or their predecessor parts. It was a lot of the administrative pieces and parts of the agency, so IT, HR, those kinds of things. And then when I became Chief of Staff, I kind of had this weird thing of just taking everything with me everywhere. Those things all transferred to the Chief of Staff so that we could have the opportunity to create the now Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration. Okay. And I was going to ask, like, as a chief of staff do at DEP. And so, but I think, do they get a portfolio the same way that someone who’s a deputy secretary would be, or is it really taking on different things, depending on what’s necessary at the moment? I think it depends on the agency, and it depends on the person running the agency. So I can only really speak to DEP and to FWC. At DEP, I had my own portfolio of legislative affairs, still had all the administrative pieces, so budget, HR, IT, purchasing, all of those things. But also along with that, it was kind of the crisis du jour. Sure. You know, what’s happening. at that time, what needs to, where your attention needs to be. So it was kind of one of the, people always ask, so what does a chief of staff do? And I never really know how to answer that question because I can’t, I don’t have a very narrowly defined answer. Again, I think you can go to right now, any different state agency and the chiefs of staff, I’ll do different I bet. I bet. And I think it also, my assumption would be it’s based on those strengths there. Something, something I may not bother. Like you, you were really good and you spent many years working the department’s budget through the legislative process. Right. And so it makes sense that, you know, you would handle budget legislative affairs. Was communications also part of that as well? Or is that just, Hey, those folks work directly for the secretary? Or did you to work on those crises as they always do happen. Honestly, in the reporting structure at DEP, I don’t remember. That was too long ago. Under at FWC, they did fall under the chief of staff. Now, organizational structure is, I don’t know, I don’t get hung up on organizational structure. Right? It’s a map, it’s a picture on a piece of paper. If there’s something that’s a hot topic issue that you need to respond to or need to put out information on, that’s certainly going to go through the secretary’s office at DEP including the chief of staff or the executive director’s office at FWC. Sure. Sure. Well, to get away from the structural kind of more boring part into maybe something a little more. favorite worst crisis or your worst favorite crisis. However you want to phrase it, what was a big issue that popped up while you were sitting in that chair, that chief of staff chair, because every year was nothing but a crisis for 60 days in that building when you were a legislative affairs director. But what was maybe one of those existential kind of crises that you got? Two of them come immediately to mind. One is hurricanes. So, that hurricanes, whether it’s the 2004, 2005 season, whether it’s hurricane, you know, whatever, whichever, whichever one, that’s your focus. Right. Right. The other major event that took an awful lot of time, an awful lot of focus was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Did you see that one all the way through from from that chair was because it seemed like the timing is right for that. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes The accident was in 2010. I was in the deputy secretary position at the time. Mike Sol was the secretary of DEP at the time. So, yeah, saw that one all the way through. Another good one. Mike Sol, another good one out there. And so, I think your work on Deepwater Horizon ended up taking you to Fish and Wildlife. Did it not? Or was it sort of joined but not necessarily? did. So when that event happened, the governor named the state trustees for response and recovery as DEP and Fish and Wildlife. I’m just going to call it Fish and Wildlife or FWC because Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is too much of a mouthful. You got it once everyone out there. So FWC familiar. had a number of dedicated staff working on nothing but oil spill. So there was a long time in negotiations on how to settle any civil and criminal disputes with the responsible parties. And then once that happened, then how do you go into restoration activities? So there was a there was a team at a DEP. FWC did not have a dedicated team. They had, you know, pulled staff from their real jobs and said, hey, go here. And so what happened was the executive director at the time said, I want to have one person kind of coordinate all of the activities at FWC. And that one person was the executive director, Nick Wiley, who I happened to know through my time at University. Were you there at the same time? He was leaving as I was coming in. I see. But we knew each other. And I wanted to get back to kind of more my roots, right? More wildlife fisheries issues and more substantive, you know, as opposed to what happened yesterday that we have to respond to. Right. So I went over to the commission, FWC, excuse me, in 2013 to be their Gulf Restoration Coordinator. And continued to work with DEP with the other four Gulf states and all the federal agencies and whatever on oil spill related issues. And so that sort of stuck, was it just a chance of timing? Who is your predecessor? becoming the chief of staff there? My predate at FWC the chief of staff when I went there retired and Nick came and said hey I want you to be chief of staff and I said no way I don’t want to do that I’ve done that before I don’t want to do it again and he said oh go on vacation but don’t make any decisions and I came back from vacation and he talked me into doing it. after all this time to be able to use that education and deal directly with you know wildlife, fish, habitat issues, things like that? Yeah I think so. I I didn’t want to get back into procurement issues. You know the the really important things that are required to run an agency but they’re not you know exciting issues that people think about when you think about FWC, right? You think about bid protests or, you know, yes, that kind of stuff. I hear I hear you. One of the things I’ve always been curious about and seeing seeing some of the vagaries from the governor’s office side of things when I was there was the relationship between FWC commissioners and their staffs as well as the relationship between the commission itself and say the governor’s office because it always seemed a bit different. Being a guy that ended up in a couple of water management districts, there seemed to be that relationship that dichotomy worked a little bit differently than it does there. Do I have that wrong? I never had the opportunity to work at a water management district, so I’m going to generalize from my viewpoint. Sure. I think they are probably more similar than they are different. My sense from, you know, engaging with the water management districts throughout my career, the governing board members probably have a lot of day-to-day interaction, not amongst themselves, but with the executive director. And that happens at the commission too. So the commission and the executive director are in touch quite regularly. They’re also in touch very regularly with the kernel of our law enforcement, of the law enforcement section, because there’s so much that happens there. They don’t themselves have a whole lot of interaction with the governor’s office. It seems odd you have the, you have commissioners that obviously they’re appointed by the governor. But it’s a bit of a difference. It was always described, you know, what Fishwine was like, we’re a constitutional agency and therefore, you know, a little bit different and some unknown way to me, you know, from say the relationship that the governor has to, you know, some of these other places. The commission derives its power very differently than the water management districts or any other state agency. As you mentioned, the commission is a constitutionally created agency, which really means the legislature can’t pass any laws. That would usurp that authority. Now, there are, the interesting thing is there are parts of the commission that are legislatively based law enforcement, penalties, you know, some are outlined in the Constitution. But from a day to day operational, how we interact as a as a constitutional authority, and I say we, you can tell I’m not completely out of retirement or in retirement. retirement yet. From a day to day perspective, it’s really not that much different. I mean, we need to, we coordinate with the governor’s office. I mean, you coordinate with the legislature. I mean, they still are in charge of the budget. So it’s not like we’re going to, you know, run out and do something crazy. Is that something that they could do without running a foul of the state constitution, which life did something that someone didn’t like. They said, well, I’ve got, we’re going to fix you because you’re not going to change this thing. I’m going to take away all of your budgets. Is that even something that they could do or that run afoul of the Constitution? No, that is, I mean, the legislature has the ultimate authority over the budget. They have the authority over the setting of penalties and license fees. So yeah, I mean, that is Certainly something that could happen, has it happened, not to my knowledge, but given that weird dichotomy, I mean, you’re a state agency. You still have to work with your other state agency brethren. You still have to work with the legislature. You still have to work with the governor’s office. Sure, right. And I know I’m throwing, it’s kind of unfair of throwing some hypothetical out there, but I’m curious, I’m guessing that, maybe a few other people out there might be curious about it. What actually happens when things go wrong? Like what happens at a water management district or fish and wildlife? But yeah, it’s like the natural course of things is you’re part of a constellation of agencies that have different missions, but congruent missions to each other. And so I think that makes total sense what you’re saying. another perhaps unfair question. You’ve been out for about six months, but a huge topic for people when you think about fish and wildlife is manatees. And so manatee populations historically over some really low levels for a while a few decades ago reached record highs and then that record kept going up and up and we’re thinking great things are going really well. And then the last few years crash, die-offs, not from the usual suspects as much, which is boat propellers and hulls, but things like starvation. Can you talk about that just a little bit in terms of what the response was like and what’s going on there? Yeah, so when you were correct when you said, historically, humanity populations were very low. Through a variety of measures, enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the manatee off the endangered species list. What you saw over the last couple years was what is called an unusual mortality event, which is a declaration by the federal agency of something that is happening in a portion of the population that needs to be addressed. And so what happened was on the East Coast, Most highlighted in the Indian River Lagoon, we had some die-offs because of loss of seagrass and cold weather. So you had a bunch of manatees hanging out in areas where they had no food. So unusual measures were taken starting last winter. So what is that? 21-22, which involved an the state, which has continued this year. Is there a danger that the manatees go back on on the list because of this? Or do you think it’s, Hey, if we if we sort out the problems going on in any river lagoon, that will be will find our way around it and we’ll get back to a healthier overall population. I have absolutely no idea what the Fish and Wildlife Service. I can say that at least of six months ago, there was no discussion about even, you know, even contemplating bringing the manatee back on onto the endangered list. It’s fair enough. Shout out to current fish and wildlife will be talking eventually. But speaking of from that perspective as well, meaning in fish and wildlife wasn’t the only agency looking at manatees as well, you have D, B and L or so. Absolutely not. I mean, and that was go back to what But I said earlier, when, you know, this is a big team effort on everything. Manatee issue was a huge team effort. We not only had other state agencies, so Water Management Districts, DEP. We had, you know, Indian River Lagoon National Estuarine program. We had the federal agencies involved, and we had private sector and other nonprofits involved. So, I mean, it was kind of all hands on deck. And a lot of agencies and NGOs involved, probably the private sector as well, involved in trying to figure out how to be red tide or at least stem the impacts. Cause there’s always, as long as I can recall, being a kid, I grew up in this state. There’s always been red tide, but it seems like it’s getting a little worse and a little worse or exasperated in some ways. And so we’re looking at trying to figure that out. What did that look like while you were still at Fish and Wildlife? Red tide, it was a pretty significant, it’s been a pretty significant issue over the last, gosh, eight years almost. I can’t remember the year we had one of the longest red tides in history. I mean, they’re usually very cyclic, right? So a couple of months every fall, early part of winter, you know, a couple of months here and there. They’ve been hanging around a little bit longer. as a state put a significant amount of resources into trying to, one, figure out, I think of it this way, there’s two component parts of red tide. So there’s the research, what it is, what triggers it, what are there conditions that need to be present, is that hurricane, is it some other thing that’s gonna trigger these? a number of world-renowned scientists working on that, headed up by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute down in St. Pete, along with universities and what. I mean there’s some of the best researchers in the world on red tide organism. The other piece of that is once you have a red tide event, what do you do about it? Are there ways to lessen it? Are there ways to kill it? And that’s organizations like Moat Marine come in, they have been over the last five years have been doing tests on hundreds of different methods to try and ameliorate red tide. And as you know, dealing with science agencies, science doesn’t happen fast. You can find something that’ll kill red tide, but what else is it going to kill? That’s right. That’s right. I mean, you don’t want to go out there and, oh, we have this and run out there and then kill everything in the Gulf of Mexico. Right. Yeah. So, you know, and you start and when you’re doing these scientific research, you start at small scale, so desktop scale, then you go to a little bit larger and then you do field testing. It takes time, but Moat has been working very diligently on that. Nice. And for updates, you know, I mean, this is all in the public domain. for people that are interested in finding out the current status on red tide. Yeah, now I’ll put a bunch of links as I find them from Fish and Wildlife and Moat on the episode notes that way people can check that out for themselves. Now I want to get to some of the more wrote questions that I tend to ask other folks. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? getting ready to retire. A colleague of mine that I worked with with from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in DC came down and asked me a very similar question, but a little bit different. His question was, what were your top five things in your career that you’re most proud of? And it was, it took me a while, honestly, because there, there are a number of things that I was fortunate enough to deal with. I mean, I think some of, some of them, at least for me, me, they’re not going to be very exciting to your listeners, I’m sure. You know, when we first started Everglades Restoration and we were building the first stormwater treatment area, well, the federal government said you guys need a permit for that. And the only permit was for a, you know, a basically a pollution source. It’s a national pollution doesn’t fit a restoration project. Right. And they said, well, you got to figure it out. So I mean, you know, a lot of back and forth, we figured out a way to permit those under that system. So that was a big deal. Yeah, that is a big deal. You know, getting SERP across the finish line in Congress. Yeah, that’s huge. That was big. One of the more recent ones, going back to the Gulf oil spill, the criminal penalties the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and getting those restoration projects up and running and funded. That was maybe not in Waterworld, but in Fish and Wildlife World, $356 million worth of projects is a lot of projects. Well, in Northwest Florida Waterworld, that’s a lot of projects. Yes. And we were happy at the, and I was at the water managers for a long time, and we were the beneficiary of a lot of those. And remember, we had folks working with fishing wildlife as well. And it was an incredible process and a collaborative one. And a lot of places, you know, experience a ton of benefit that may never have happened. Sure. I mean, otherwise you’re right. Because when you think about, I mean, you know, I look at, you know, fisheries, fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico. $75 million from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund went to that upwards of 70 plus million for Appalachicola Bay Restoration. That wouldn’t have happened but for this terribly tragic event. So some good comes out of that. This is a really bad thing that has happened. Huge number of people’s lives were impacted. And entire swaths of the Gulf Coast were severely impacted. But if not for that, all of those things that you just mentioned, in places that are suffering like the Appalachicola River and Bay, to have the opportunity to do some things that simply don’t meet the threshold of high priorities otherwise. have the availability of that from those penalties to go back in and be able to affect some of that restoration and enhancement beyond that. It’s enormous, enormous. It is enormous and that’s just kind of the front end. Some of the money that went to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was from the criminal settlement. The civil penalties, I mean, they’re not even paid out yet. We’re going to be seeing some benefit from that until, you know, 2035, somewhere in there. Don’t spell oil is the moral of the story. Yeah. Is there anything that you see as left undone, that you’ve had, if you’d had more time and now I’m not suggesting that, hey, give it another decade, but if given a little bit more time that there’s something that you might have wanted to tackle. Yes. I mean, you know, I could sit here and say, you know, yes, I wanted to see restoration of Apollochicola Bay or, you know, those things are going to move forward. There’s a lot of really smart, talented people that have taken up the ball. That’s going to happen. There were two things that were really more of a personal thing for me that I couldn’t get across the finish line because they were either too complicated or I just didn’t have enough time. which was or is affordable housing issues for staff, especially in the keys, but South Florida in general. We saw a lot of issues after Hurricane Irma when so many people were displaced. You know, when you’re right out of college and you’re paid not a lot of money, you can’t find a place to live. So you end up working three, sometimes four jobs to pay rent. So that was a big issue. I’m hopeful now somebody else much smarter than me is going to be able to tackle that because I recognize that that is an issue statewide. The other issue is something that was much more personal which is it was a legislative issue. I just couldn’t get enough traction because I started it a little bit late but it has to do with staff that have contracted Lyme disease to try to instances where risk management denied claims, because Lyme disease is one of those things where it’s hard to know, did you get the tick bite when you were on the job, or was it when you were walking through your backyard? And Florida, up until a few years ago, we weren’t a big Lyme disease state. But everything’s coming south, and so now it is a big issue. And we had a number of employees that were impacted by that. That one, I think I just started a little bit too late. Do you think one of the solutions there, I’m just thinking about it is what were the things that you were looking at terms of time like some sort of disability insurance writers? I mean, there were a number of things that we were not going to be making this up wholesale, right? We looked at other states because other states had any number of ways to addresses, including insurance writers. issue. The other one is, if you have a certain type of job that requires you to be outside, that if you contract Lyme disease, you’re presumed to have gotten it on the job without having to make that demonstration that nope, I was, I was collecting fish or you know, whatever in the marsh. So there I mean, there was there’s a number of ways to deal with it. It just it’s, it’s complicated. And of course, it does. It was not solely an FWC issue because Water Management District employees are out in the field, DEP employees, Forest Service employees are out in the field. So it was like… It’s an interesting subject you bring up is like, I don’t recall that being something that, you know, we talked about at the Water Management District, but I had 13 people, like I had a small agency, right? And you have learned those how many people that are while biologists, law enforcement who are out in the woods, you know, doing these sorts of things. So it’s obviously it had to be much more prevalent. Are you optimistic about the future of the environment in Florida and why, either way? Yes, I am. There are, I mentioned it before, but when I think about, you know, when I left the agency, you know, some people, I don’t know, my sense is that a lot of people go on leaving and nobody can do it as well as I did. And I look back and think, oh my gosh, there are so many people that are smarter than me, younger than me, have more energy than me, we’re in good hands. They’re gonna do good things. I think there’s any environmental issue that the state is facing. You can look at it and fall down fair, you know, I mean, my gosh, it takes so long, you’re never going to get there. But I think if you continue to look at the small incremental wins, and know where you’re trying to go, and if you’ve got the people, the resources, which is a big issue. And I know on one of your other podcasts, you talked a lot about, you know, at least the monetary resources, financial resources. you know, with that, I’m optimistic about it, but I don’t like to get too depressed about things like that. I mean, does that come with the years of experience seeing that incremental change over over time that that gives you that optimism, do you think? Or is it just the recognition that smarter people than us exist and and they’re going to go, they’re going to go get after it and and it’s going to, it’ll work in the end. I think it’s a combination of both. You know, I don’t want to say, Brett, that you and I weren’t, aren’t smart. But I just, I know there’s people behind us that are going to do good things. You know, these are all the issues that we deal with. All the issues that you’ve talked to your other guests about are big, would understand is when somebody says, well, they’ve been working on this project for 30 years and it’s still not done. Well, it’s not like the people that started it 30 years ago didn’t know what the heck they were doing. It’s just a big complicated issue that has all sorts of ramifications that you have to take into consideration as you move forward. And it’s not easy. If it was easy, Everglades would have been done 20 years ago. That’s what you were talking about. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, but to then ask you to go to the the pessimist side of things. Is there anything that keeps you up at night that you look at from an environmental sense, a habitat sense, a wildlife sense, a water sense, are like, man, I’m really worried about that. Fred Ashour had a great one with PFAS, you know, and those types of things. at night. Right, exactly. I think that, you know, I try not to, at this point in my retired life, I try not to let things keep me up at night, but the one environmental issue that I think we are going to all need to grapple with and figure out how to deal with is climate issues. I mean, I think some of your other guests probably have said that. Whatever you believe on why it’s happening. are changes happening. And it is impacting local governments, it’s impacting the state, it’s impacting the waterman. I mean, it’s, it’s something we’re going to have to, yeah, to come to come to terms with. I think in I am heartened by seeing the level of attention that that we’re getting to the resilience side, I have, I partners here that are experts and that sort of thing. And they seem heartened by at least it is his recognition. It’s It’s hard. It’s easier sometimes to whistle past the graveyard when it comes to that than do it because it’s an expensive problem. It’s very expensive and it’s complicated. Right. Right. I mean, you’ve got a bunch of people living in areas that are going to potentially be inundated with seawater. I mean, that’s, that’s, that is hard to grapple with. But you’re right. There are, there are a number of local governments or organizations that are really trying to take the next step forward to try to address that issue. What advice would you give young people who are either just starting out, like you said, or that are thinking about doing what you did so well for 30 years? Number one, do it. I mean, it’s hard, it’s frustrating, but the rewards are, I think the rewards are great. Personal rewards. not monetary rewards, but personal rewards are great. The other piece of advice I think the thing that helped me the most is listening to people, talking to people and finding a really good mentor. And that could be one or two depend, you know, one, two, ten, however, but don’t come in thinking, you know, everything. There’s a lot of people that have a lot of more than willing to help. I like it. On that note, Jennifer Fitzwater, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks Brett, I appreciate it. Well that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening to Water for Fighting. If you’re enjoying the show, please be sure to subscribe on whatever platform you use and don’t forget to leave a five star rating and review. You can follow the show on LinkedIn and Instagram at FLWaterpod and you can reach me directly at who and or what you’d like to know more about. Production for this podcast is by Lonely Fox Studios. Thanks to Carl Sworn for making the best of what he had to work with. And Dave Barfield for the amazing graphics and technical assistance. A very special thank you goes out to Bo Spring from the Bo Spring Band for giving permission to use his music for this podcast. The song is called Doing Work for Free. And you should check out the band live or wherever great music is sold. Join me next time for another conversation with someone who has helped shape water and environmental policy in the Sunshine State. Until then, your whiskey close and your water closer.