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Nancy Smith

SFWMD Senior Scientist Terrie Bates Quits. Was Retirement a Bridge Too Far?

April 19, 2019 - 7:00am
Terrie Bates
Terrie Bates

Terrie Bates, director of Water Resources at the South Florida Water Management District and one of its most respected scientists, has resigned her position.

In a letter to SFWMD Governing Board members on Wednesday, Bates said her retirement is coming up quickly, and after 35 years at the District, she is simply accelerating her departure. "Knowing that I am time-limited by virtue of the state retirement system DROP program, I think it’s best for the District if I take my leave now so you have the opportunity to better invest your time with the Water Resources leader who will be working closely with you for years to come," she wrote.

"I wanted to personally let you know I will be leaving the District in a few weeks. You all are embarking on such an important journey and I know that the demands on your time devoted to water management district business can be overwhelming. It really is important for you to develop strong working relationships with the professional staff here who are charged with carrying out your direction."

I Beg to DifferBates has a wealth of institutional knowledge. So much that she was appointed interim agency director, serving during the post-inauguration Governing Board blow-up, between the time Ernie Marks was replaced as executive director effective March 5, and Drew Bartlett took over April 1.

Bates' loss, particularly now when the new board members are trying to catch on, will be significant.

Born and raised in Palm Beach County, she received a bachelor of science in forest resources & conservation from the University of Florida and a masters in public administration from Florida Atlantic University.

She joined the District in 1985 and since then, her experience has grown exponentially, covering environmental regulation, water supply, water quality, wetland mitigation, ecosystem restoration, applied science and watershed management. 

According to her District bio, she directed "a streamlining effort in environmental permitting to combine the state's surface water management, dredge & fill and sovereign submerged lands programs and to create the mitigation banking program."

The District hadn't revealed publicly what it planned to do after Bates' retirement, nor was it forthcoming Thursday. 

Bates declined to talk about her resignation, in fact declined to talk to me at all. As did her friends and colleagues. But, frankly, I didn't blame her or them. The SFWMD has to be a pretty bizarre place to work these days.

I've been cringing for these folks for a long time now.

It started back when Gov. DeSantis announced the appointment of Scott Wagner to the board. "As a practicing maritime lawyer," the governor said, Wagner brings "a unique perspective and expertise of Florida’s waterways" to the South Florida Water Management District. He does? No offense to Wagner, who is now the board's vice chair, I'm sure he's a perfectly good maritime lawyer. But how does maritime law, or "admiralty law" as it's called -- which deals with international agreements and treaties and cruise ships -- qualify as expertise on Florida's waterways? For that matter, how did Wagner's position on the Orange Bowl Committee qualify him?

More recently, on April 11, there was the press release that proudly announced the District was going to move policy forward by popularity contest. Did you see that one?  The headline in bold: "SFWMD Wants to Hear From You!" The subhead: "Governing Board asking for public input to help set the agency's strategic priorities." Huh? I imagined long-time District employees reacting like Richard Pryor in the movie "Silver Streak," when he stood bolt-upright in the middle of a shoot-out -- bullets flying around him -- and bellowed, "Who's in charge here?" 

What must a serious scientist who has devoted three-and-a-half decades to the Everglades ecosystem think of ending her career upstaged by board members who believe phosphate is the same as phosphorous, who haven't a clue what goes on in a stormwater treatment area during the dry season, who don't know the difference between deep water injection wells (DIW) and aquifer storage and recovery wells (ASR)? And the frightening part is, they think they know.

You can teach one or two new board members. They have always learned by assimilation. But how do you bring a whole class of newbies up to speed (Ron Bergeron excepted) while continuing  on the course you set so carefully and with so much difficulty? 

I'm just guessing here, but I think the last straw for Terrie Bates -- the Big Giddyup -- might have been the hypocrisy on display during last week's nine-hour meeting of the Governing Board. I'm talking about the back-to-back agenda items, the first on whether WRAC and WRAC-REC should be continued, the following one on the EAA Reservoir. The room was fairly full. (See the WRAC discussion here, starting at about 4:57:0.) 

One by one, members of environmental groups that get money from the Everglades Foundation/Trust/Coalition took their turns at the podium, all doing the triumvirate's bidding, denouncing the volunteer Water Resources Analysis Coalition (WRAC). (When you have full control of the water power structure in the state, the last thing you want is a bunch of volunteers who might know more than you do.)

Who were these environmentalists? Celeste de Palma, Audobon Florida; Rae Ann Wessel, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation; Capt. Daniel Andrews, Captains for Clean Water; Lisa Interlandi, Everglades Law Center; Cara Capp, National Parks Conservation Association; Rienaldo Diaz, Lake Worth Lagoon keeper; Marisa Carrozzo, Conservancy Southwest Florida; and a handful of others.

But when they had finished, each making an orchestrated pitch, a curious thing happened. This group abruptly got up at the same time and left at the same time. Their day was done. BEFORE the board moved on to the EAA Reservoir. 

Here comes the hypocrisy, you can almost see it rising across the 'glades. Look at these people charge out the door to get home ahead of the traffic.

These are the very "community activists" who were whining and crying last November because the previous Governing Board went behind their backs to follow the law and allow Florida Crystals lease the state's land until construction could start. The same people who were screaming because they didn't have a seat at the table, now bolting out the doors. They were outraged and indignant last year because of course the board members were trying to sabotage the EAA Reservoir. And they stayed that way until the governor sacked every last one of them. A victory for Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. 

Now look at them. On April 11, 2019 they couldn't give a muskrat's moustache for the EAA Reservoir.

Again, just a guess. But I'm thinking the moment Terrie Bates threw in the towel was the moment in the middle of the EAA Reservoir discussion when the Miccosukees announced they would oppose the reservoir. Think about it. Terrie Bates had been around to witness the dramatics and the clutching of pearls in November when there was nothing "going on" but faux hysteria. Now,  when there truly IS a threat to a fast-turnaround for the reservoir -- a legal one that could halt progress for as long as 10 years -- she's here again ... but they aren't. Not a community activist in sight. Read it and weep.

The most important news of the entire nine hours, yet the new Governing Board's support team was nowhere to be found. Their show had ended. Reservoir? What reservoir? Have a look at the photo of the meeting room below, sans enviros.

I'm thinking, at that moment Terrie Bates had to be telling herself, I'm done.

The executive who had management responsibilities for overseeing the District's water shortage and drought response in 2006-2007 and again in 2011, the same one was there through eight governors and now her ninth, who was there at the start of Everglades restoration and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan ... It's a great shame to see her go even one day before her time.

Where'd they go? The EAA Reservoir discussion begins
Where'd they go? The EAA Reservoir discussion begins


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


The most pathetic part of this entire thing is what SFWMD has turned into. They are essentially a communist organization with an unlimited budget funded by taxpayers that harasses private landowners and think they own and can regulate every single little puddle in our state. It used to be the Central and Southern Florida “FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT”. There nothing but glorified mosquito breeders and a water retention company. Drain the swamp, abolish them all together and restart with an organization run by the people.

Terrie Bates is a class act she will be greatly missed at the district. It’s a shame to see science pushed to the side for personal agendas. The smoothest transition for the state would’ve been over the year after governor DeSantis took office. The governing board will catch on who to trust and who not to trust. Thank you for the articles you were hitting so many nails On the head!

And that trust will not stretch to Nancy Smith, or the unknown special interests she represents . . . . . or as an ex-SFWMD Board member do you believe, like Nancy Smith, that the problems in Florida Bay have nothing to do with hypersalinity killing seagrasses, or the need for additional freshwater flows to the bay --> "He <Jay Zieman> is the man most responsible for preserving the faulty hypothesis of Florida Bay needing more fresh water" . . . . . AND The hypersalinity "hypoorthesis" was never supported by science, much less common sense, and was officially de-bunked by the National Academy of Sciences over a decade ago" . . . . . . especially as those denials and falsehoods fly in the face of actual science from both SFWMD and National Academy of Science scientists (and I can provide the SFWMD tapes and slides and the NAS publications) . . . . . . . . . are those Nancy Smith articles addressing Florida Bay included in your "Thank you for the articles you were hitting so many nails On the head!" . . . . . . if so . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

I was really surprised that the Miccosukee Tribe's opposition to moving the reservoir up in the Integrated Delivery Schedule has received so little press. Their land is south of the reservoir site and north of the Tamiami Trail. They want the flow under the trail fixed ... including that pesky problem with the sparrow ... before the reservoir is built. The tribe has been very clear about their views all along. When the federal permitting process starts, perhaps someone will finally address their concerns.

Obviously, way too long a history of politics ruling a subject that should have never been politicized. Maintaining the Everglades must be seen as a non-partisan issue before we can hope for a real solution. Maybe DeSantis is the governor who can make that happen before it is too late to save the Everglades and just becomes a political talking point with no substance to it. .

DeSantis has already made it political by sacking the whole gov board at once. Florida statutes say new members should be phased in. There is a whole order of how it's supposed to work and he disregarded it to allow Brian Mast and his donors at the Everglades Trust to take over. Scott was way way way less political than DeSantis has been and DeSantis is only getting started.

Everglades restoration has a multi decades history of being the biggest @&$&& boondoggle in the history of American government. Never had so much money been spent on something that will soon be overtaken by sea level rise. Bad money after bad money. $$can the whole thing and move the tax dollars north

There Nancy goes again . . . . . turning an otherwise reasonable article about Terrie's retirement (which DROP requires shortly) . . . . . into a biased, slime-ridden, partisan attack, based on fantasy musings about what must be in someone else's mind . . . . . . . . get real . . . . . . . even as long, and as as well, as I've known Terrie over the past 20+ years, I wouldn't attempt to argue what's in her mind about retirement (without actually talking to her first - something you failed to obtain) . . . . . . . so thanks for the article about Terrie . . . . . . and five well deserved long-nose Pinocchios for falsifying (and making self-serving partisan board attacks) about her motives . . . . . . . . typical SSN . . . . . . . . .PATHETIC . . .

Hey Frank, if you think that Nancy Smith is the problem with South Florida water issues you are as dumb as the Everglades foundation or maybe you are from the Everglades foundation. Sorry that may explain it.

Wrong on all accounts, as typical for those in denial . . . . . . I'm a scientist with degrees in three science areas, and worked on Everglades issues for many years, none of which had anything to do with the Foundation . . . . . I have pointed out Nancy's science SSN falsehood spins on a number of occasions (e.g. Florida Bay) . . . . . . . . .go spin your delusional fantasies elsewhere where none care about the facts . . . . . . . . . . . . .PATHETIC . . . .

Oh and Nancy you nailed it!!

This had nothing to do with DROP and everything to do with the incompetency of the new Board and Administration. Thats a fact!!!

Fine, prove it . . . . . . that that is what Terrie's reasons were for retiring when she had planned to (was required to) retire all along due to DROP . . . . . . . you can't, can you . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

I know Terrie too & I would say good job Nancy you are very close to the bone. It had to be said. Unprofessional atmosphere at the district now.

Somehow I doubt that . . . . . I discussed this today with someone who's long worked directly for Terrie . . . . . . SSN here appears to be just what I earlier noted . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . . .

Frank, just a heads up but that person was lying to you! This is all about the new direction of the agency but Terrie is too solid a person to say it publicly.

Of course they must have been, as they don't agree with your fantasy (just like Trump's the truth teller) . . . . . . . . fine, prove it . . . . . . that what you believe is what Terrie's reasons were for retiring when she had planned to retire all along due to DROP . . . . . . . you can't, can you . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

Glad Terrie got her recognition in December by people who understand her contributions and respect the dedication and honesty of career staff.

So sad to see so many enviro NGOs subservient to the EF. Eichenberg worked for the COE and Cong. Clay Shaw and dreamed up the reservoir years ago. Do newer science, hydrogeologic data, etc. support the reservoir? Anyone talking sea level rise, climate change, growth management? Actually dealing with the nutrient sources north of Lake O? Septic tanks on the IRL, urban fertilizer?

SWFMD is now and always has been nothing but a first-class boondoggle. Just abolish it now and stop taxing us to support it! Plenty of other "state agencies" are in the same league of irrelevancy!

There is nothing wrong with the South Florida Water Management District but rather it is the idiocy of those in Tallahassee who know nothing of the issues inherent to South Florida but yet constantly change the rules of the game for the experts that are here in South Florida. Shame on you Tallahassee and those politicians who think they know what they are talking about. That includes you Brian Mast!!

You must not live in South Florida. The water management district keeps water out of homes and business for eight MILLION people.

"What must a serious scientist who has devoted three-and-a-half decades to the Everglades ecosystem think of ending her career upstaged by board members who believe phosphate is the same as phosphorous, who haven't a clue what goes on in a stormwater treatment area during the dry season, who don't know the difference between deep water injection wells (DIW) and aquifer storage and recovery wells (ASR)? And the frightening part is, they think they know." Simple - a quality person leaves and goes where SERIOUS science is the mission and instead of politics. Reading the below comments tells me that this is more environmentalist meddling in things they have little real concern about. Amazing what a little power will do. Terrie Bates is a major loss. My guess, DeSantis will not even be told. Drew is too new to want to admit he has lost total and complete control and now appears to be a token for Eichenberg. That is why I view this as truly pathetic.

They should have just named Eichenberg the Executive Director of The District and been done with it. He's running the place anyway!!

Terrie Bates is among the most recent of many gone from SFWMD. She is among the very few that got to leave on their own accord. As I commented earlier, there have been 9 executive directors at SFWMD since 1999. Turnover and instability are constant there. This is just more of the same.

New board and new ED are in TROUBLE. Exactly correct that they don't know what they don't know and are losing the professionals with the knowledge, confidence and tact to tell them. Add the powers that be in Tallahassee to that sentiment too. Feel bad for remaining staff that will just smile, nod and run down silly rabbit trails for sake of employment. Policies aside (which of course are always fairly debatable), some of the dumbest things I have ever heard at board meetings I heard during the last two.


Amen to that. How does a Governor buy in to the idiots at the Everglades foundation. Enjoy your 4 years because its going to go quick Mr. Desantis.

Amen to that. How does a Governor buy in to the idiots at the Everglades foundation. Enjoy your 4 years because its going to go quick Mr. Desantis.

GOVERNOR - ARE YOU REWADING THIS???? Stunning comment if accurate. Seems another left wing over reach at work. DeSantis needed the enviro's to beat the former Ag Commissioner and win his seat. But this is going too far. Terrie bates was an honest breath of "science". This is a HUGE loss. Governor - Do You Support is correct - you need to step in and stop this bleeding of staff. THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION IS NOT ELECTED AND NOT BALANCED. STOP THIS BLEEDING GOVERNOR.


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nancy smith


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