Cheryl Meads speaks about the South Florida Water Management District and the various water matters during a recent Islamorada Chamber of Commerce gathering at the Islander Resort Conference Center. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

This month, Cheryl Meads will travel to the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in West Palm Beach for the next governing board workshop on water quality management. Appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in February, Meads and seven other new board members are set to confront some serious water problems facing the southern end of the state. 

An Islamorada councilwoman, Meads submitted her application as DeSantis set out to bring change to the board, which sets policy for the agency, for a fresh start. And DeSantis did just that as new appointed members took oath in March.

“I think, like anyone, I was humbled by it and happy to have the opportunity to make a difference,” Meads said. “I just believed my background fits well, and we’re in a situation where now we have a governor who has the vision and is putting things in action.” 

Meads holds a degree in chemistry with education, training and experience in biology, microbiology, water analysis, development and implementation of quality systems. She previously worked as a contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As a global quality assurance manager with GlaxoSmithKline, she discovered defects with GSK medications and brought forward a whistleblower lawsuit. It led to a felony guilty plea in 2010 to distributing adulterated drugs with the intent to mislead and defraud. 

During the first couple weeks, Meads says the board has been digesting a tremendous amount of information. During a workshop last month, members heard and discussed the district’s history, how and why canals were made and moving water from one place to another. 

“I believe that we are focused on moving water south, but there are some obstacles that we need to work with and talk through, like reducing phosphorus in the discharge waters from Lake Okeechobee,” Meads said. 

In late 2014, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection adopted a 10-year, $750 million plan to combat excessive nutrients entering Lake Okeechobee — and a goal to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the lake by 33 percent. 

Meads said there are many stakeholders involved, from those who manage the issues to those feeling the result of decisions. The Army Corps of Engineers controls Lake O when it comes to releasing water, but Meads said the water district provides input and opinion.

“We all have to sit at the same table and we all have a seat and we have to work together to come through for a positive result,” she said. “The needs differ county to county. Some worry about having enough water, others about algal blooms and others too much water. It’s a delicate balance.”

Meads says she enjoys working with fellow members. She’s also looking forward to seeing Ron Bergeron, whose term started in April.

“They’re bright and accomplished and they all bring different things to the table,” she said. “We have an Army colonel who’s fantastic, a lawyer, a couple of finance guys.”

See opposite page for full bios.

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