This episode of the In Our Expert Opinion Real Estate Podcast is joined by Brett Cyphers, Partner at Anfield Consulting. Drawing upon his extensive expertise in Florida’s water district management districts, Cyphers delves into the realm of permitting and restoration, their relationship with real estate, and the preservation of the state’s invaluable natural systems. Cyphers also speaks on hosting the "Water For Fighting" podcast which aims to provide a platform for experts to share their unfiltered insights while serving as a valuable oral history for those captivated by the journey of water resource conservation.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
What is your job? I'm a lobbyist and consultant. We deal largely with environmental water resource issues. We represent [Polk County], about eight total counties, and three or four cities. My job consists of me working with clients, trying to figure out what they need, going to agency folks or legislators, and trying to get them to do what we want them to do.
When you look at year-to-year, there's something called the Heartland Planning Region. It’s essentially a conglomeration of local governments and the county itself who try to work on water resources and make sure that we have enough water resources to support growth. Our job is to go to legislators, the governor, and these agencies to make sure they get those dollars.
What are water management districts? Essentially, water management districts are kind of “quasi-state agencies.” The boards are appointed by the governor and they're confirmed by the State Senate - the same way other agency heads are. The executive directors are technically hired by the boards, but the governor has to approve them and they're also confirmed by the Senate. These districts are governed by different chapters of statute, largely it's Chapter 373.
They're supposed to do essentially four different things: 1) Flood protection is a big one. That's how they came to be down here to begin with. 2) Water quantity is making sure you have enough water to go around. 3) Water quality is dealing with the things that everyone's talking about these days. It can be microplastics, it can be too much nitrogen or phosphorus in the water, and all sorts of things. Then you have 4) natural systems, which are the things that a lack of water quantity or quality can have an impact on. These are places like Indian River Lagoon, Biscayne Bay, and Lake Parker.
How do water management districts affect real estate? There's a couple of avenues that a place like SVN | Saunders Ralston Danztler can have a relationship with a district. One is through the Environmental Resource Permitting process. If you want to build a neighborhood, a building, a Chili's, or a Red Lobster, you've got to get an Environmental Resource Permit. That's to make sure that you store enough water because you're putting in impervious surface concrete, asphalt, and things like that.
You don't want too much water to go on your next door neighbor and flood them out. You also don't want to give decreased water quality into water bodies. You have to get this permit to deal with that. It includes dealing with engineers as well as the environmental science side of things. When you're building a new development, you've got to work with the water management district to make sure that you're not having those negative impacts.
How do water management districts get funded? The baseline revenue source for most water management districts is ad valorem taxes. So, you pay up to 1 mill which means $1 per $1000 of taxable value on a home or a building. Then you take all that together, based on the millage rate, and multiply by the number of folks that you have and you come up with that revenue.
For the Southwest Florida Water Management District, that's a huge part of their revenue base. With Suwannee River District and the St. Johns River District, it’s the same. In the Northwest District, it gets a little bit tricky because the ad valorem has been squeezed down in the Constitution so low.
Why did you create a podcast? Having been in the legislature for a short period of time, you get interviewed, they write articles about you, you go on TV, and they only put two sentences in print. They write the story they want to write or they say something completely out of context. I didn't want that to happen, so I thought about all these people that spent decades of their lives to protect these resources, serve Floridians, and solve problems. Yet somehow the only thing that people know about them is what they read about in a newspaper. Sometimes that's okay, but many times it's not.
I created the “Water For Fighting” podcast to give people a chance to tell me and our listeners what they think about something, why they do it, what they did, and how they want it to be. They don't have me to filter or edit it. That's the genesis of it and the other part is to just serve as an oral history of sorts. It's a niche audience, but it’s for people interested in the idea of how to piece stories together from what we did to get to where we are.