SWFWMD Chief Professional Engineer Caps Off the Annual “Save our Waters Week” at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum in Inverness
As part of The 28th Annual Save our Waters Week, Mark Fulkerson, Chief Professional Engineer with the
Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), entertained and educated a packed house with a “Coffee and Conversations” presentation that lasted almost two hours.
The crowd clearly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the area’s water resources.
Fulkerson is very popular. His newsletter (“Withlacoochee River System Update”) is widely read in Citrus
and surrounding counties, and he is probably the most trusted leader SWFWMD has in the communities.
He greeted a surprising number of the 95 attendees by their first names – and they welcomed him
warmly. He used personal stories and his deep knowledge of the region, the river, and the area lakes
(especially Tsala Apopka) to get some important points across.
Learning about SWFWMD Water Management in Citrus County
Those points were clear and very appropriate for the event:
- Water is essential for life, but we often take it for granted.
- The water we drink, nourish our crops with, and that sustains our verdant environment meanders 160 miles through eight Florida counties before eventually discharging into the Gulf of Mexico. It is a treasure.
- Nearly one-third of the river’s watershed is conservation land in one form or another which helps provide natural flood storage and improves water quality.
- The Green Swamp (headwaters of the Withlacoochee) is important because of its very high Floridian Aquifer levels and natural plant communities that are home to over 300 species of wildlife.
- The Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes (eastern Citrus County) interacts with the Withlacoochee River through a series of canals and water control structures.
Without shying away from several technical issues, Mark Fulkerson explained that SWFWMD operates those mostly inherited structures to maximize benefits to the public through water conservation and flood protection. Save our Waters Week is all about education and the protection of our waterways.
He explained that things have improved dramatically from the days when the Army Corp of Engineers ran the system, but proudly said SWFWMD maintains a courteous professional relationship with ACE and gets good support as a result.
To the immense pleasure of the members of the Citrus County Historical Society, he showed slides and
talked easily about many special places in the river system – especially Lake Rousseau. He traced its
history back to its creation in 1909 and explained that it is also managed by SWFWMD to provide flood
protection and to ensure freshwater flows downstream through the Lower Withlacoochee River to the
Gulf of Mexico.
He told the remarkably interesting tale of how he (along with “a couple of other staff” members) walked
and boated the entire river during the severe drought back in 2006 & 2007. He showed pictures of them
surveying the bottom elevations to build a computer model that today provides a much better understanding of the complex river system.
He explained how he and his colleagues use those data points – and the deep understanding of it the
team has developed, to help educate the public. He added that more importantly, it helps SWFWMD to
make good (fact-based) management decisions and develop more “property-owner friendly” operating
Mark was masterful and generous with his time during the Q&A. He was comfortable enough with the
crowd to leave questions for the end. After repeating each question asked to confirm that he knew what he was being asked, he answered them fully. He also took the time to think about his phrasing to ensure he was providing a clear and direct answer. There was no doubt this was not a canned pitch or collection of preselected “must use” phrases.
Finally, those who were not already “following him” appreciated that he invited them to register to get
up-to-date water level information via his newsletter. He provided useful full-color map handouts, as
well. Save our Waters Week happens each year, but SWFWMD works to protect water every day.
He closed by explaining that SWFWMD doesn’t just answer questions (and complaints). They embrace “reaching out to the public,” and cooperate with many other agencies. He certainly did that on this Saturday night.
As the crowd departed, the comments I heard, and the atmosphere were upbeat and happy. “What a
good speaker,” “What a diplomat he was.” “What a true professional public servant!” It was surely
another great night at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum.
There are many activities in Citrus County for Save our Waters Week, but this one was one of the best!