When Brian Armstrong received the 2020 Geology Alumni Society Award from the University of South Florida — he was both surprised, and humbled by the honor.
Armstrong, who is executive director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD), knew that he was going to play a role at the Jan. 30 awards banquet, but didn’t know whether it would be to bestow, or receive, an award, he said.
Upon learning that he was the recipient, Armstrong said he felt humbled because he realizes the caliber of the previous winners of this award.
Plus, Armstrong noted, it felt a bit odd to receive an individual award.
“I almost feel a little bit guilty, in that, I know all of the people who have helped me along the way,” Armstrong said.
In his role at the helm of SWFMD, Armstrong leads a team of 574 full-time equivalent employees, plus some student interns.
The district includes all or parts of 16 counties, including Pasco and Hillsborough counties within The Laker/Lutz News coverage area. Its four areas of responsibility are water supply, flood protection, natural systems and water quality.
The district manages those areas of responsibility in various ways, including its regulatory and cooperative funding programs, Armstrong said.
In the cooperative funding program, the district and its cooperators build projects together — pooling resources to create alternative water supply projects or complete restoration projects, for example, he said.
The district also collects a tremendous amount of data, Armstrong said, “so we can keep an eye on the resources, in the areas of water quality, water levels, rainfalls.”
The SWFMD executive has great respect for the work his team does to carry out the district’s mission.
“We have a brilliant group of scientists who are able to take that data, interpret it for us and help us make recommendations for the board,” Armstrong said.
The district’s greatest challenge — as it has been for the past 20 years — is water supply, he said.
“We’re trying to develop alternative supplies,” he said, such as surface water, desalination plants and reservoirs.
“Matter of fact, you know, we’ve had tremendous population growth over the past two decades, but our actual groundwater use has gone down and the actual use per person has gone down. That is something we’re really, really proud of at our district,” Armstrong said.
The use of reclaimed water also has increased, and he expects that resource to play a greater role in the future.
On a personal level, Armstrong said he gets enormous satisfaction from doing work that is so closely related to his interests.
“I am an avid outdoorsman. I love nature. And, when I was able to connect science to my passion, that was it for me. I found something that I could do, and also help protect the resources that I love in Florida,” he said.
Initially, his goal was to be an engineer, like his father.
But he decided to pursue geology, instead, after finding out more about it from his brother-in-law, Tony, a geologist.
Armstrong is delighted to be able to combine his love for mathematics, science and nature in his work.
He and his wife, Pam, have two sons — 12-year-old Noah, who attends Centennial Middle School, and 14-year-old Dillon, who attends Pasco High School. Pam teaches first grade at Watergrass Elementary.
The family lives in San Antonio now, but will be making a move to an area off U.S. 98, between Dade City and Zephyrhills, Armstrong said.
“Everywhere I move just starts to explode (with growth), so I just keep moving.”
Published February 24, 2021