Amendment Would Make Clean Water a Legal Right

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FloridaWeekly logo In: Amendment Would Make Clean Water a Legal Right | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

The Florida Statutes  give its citizens the right to clean water, but our preponderance of greedy, self-serving lawmakers have found ways to placate their bribers and to destroy our natural resources.

Hopefully this may end if the new amendment becomes part of our Florida Constitution.  We can not stress enough the importance of this, because as of now most of our legislators and most of our judges are influenced by money and politics.

Those who would save our environment have as their only recourse legal challenges which are usually decided by judges who give non-sensical rulings in favor of industry.

Really illogical, so simplistic and weak as to be shameful.

Read the complete article here in the Fort Myers Florida Weekly.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

A new take on the quest for clean water based on a belief that goes back more than a millennium could go before Florida residents on the 2022 state ballot.

The proposed Right to Clean Water amendment is the first of a set of five proposed Rights of Nature Amendments that a group of environmental activists is gathering signatures for and hopes to get on the ballot.

All Floridians believe that they have a right to clean water. But the proposed amendment would make that right legally enforceable. That is, the right to clean water is a legal right, and not only Floridians, but water bodies in Florida have that right.

The amendment is necessary because the water regulations and protections we have now are not working, said Chuck O’Neal, chairman of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, the group that is backing and promoting all five amendments. “For us, I think it’s time to stand up and do something.”

Under the amendment, any Florida resident or organization can take legal action if they see the right to clean water being violated through pollution or actions that will result in pollution. So the resident can go to court on behalf of himself or on behalf of the waterways, which also have legal rights “to exist, flow, be free from pollution and maintain a healthy ecosystem.”

The amendment would not replace existing water regulations, but enhance them by allowing the legal right to step in when they are not adequately enforced, Mr. O’Neal said.

The amendment language was written with the help of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, an organization that partners with communities, organizations and governments globally to build a movement to advance the rights of nature into law.

It is also modeled after a charter amendment that passed in Orange County in November 2020 with 89% of the vote. The county is the largest municipality in the U.S. so far to legalize the rights of nature, said Thomas Linzey, senior counsel for the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights.

The charter amendment has already prompted an enforcement lawsuit filed in April in the 9th Judicial Court in Orlando, claiming that a proposed 1,923-acre development will pollute the waters and destroy about 115 acres of wetlands. Mr. O’Neal filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wilde Cypress Branch and four other waterways to enforce their legal rights against the proposed Meridian Parks Remainder project by developer Beachline South Residential LLC. Beachline and (now former) Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, were named as defendants.

The developer could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit and the state DEP declined comment.

If the plaintiffs prevail, it would be precedent-setting, Mr. Linzey said. “It would be an example of how rights of nature laws can be adopted and enforced against projects that would violate the rights of nature in a particular community.”

One of the ideas behind the rights of nature is to stop perceiving nature, water and wildlife as a commodity, or as Joseph Bonasia, the Southwest Florida regional director of the Florida Rights of Nature Network put it more poetically in a blog on the network website:

“On a deeper level, though, the fight is against a cultural paradigm in which we view the natural world merely as a bank of resources to satisfy human needs and fuel our economy. We act as if we are separate from and superior to nature.”

But this “new” approach to environmental protection is really not new at all, Mr. Linzey said.

“It goes back thousands of years in indigenous communities, where nature is viewed as something other than property,” he said. It surfaced in western law in the 1970s via a law review article by Christopher Stone, a University of Southern California law professor, and by Justice William O. Douglas in his dissenting opinion in Sierra Club v. Morton, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1972, Mr. Linzey said.

Justice Douglas’ dissent pointed out that inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation, that a ship has a “legal personality” and the ordinary corporation is a “person” for purposes of the adjudicatory processes.

His dissent continued: “So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life … The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water — whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger — must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction.”

The rights of nature is not just a lofty idea, supporters say. It makes good, down-to-earth economic sense. Tourism is the major driver of Florida’s economy, and within that category ecotourism is a powerful niche.

“Tourists don’t come to see bluegreen algae blooms, red tides, or dead marine life lining our shores. Nor do they come to risk their health by breathing air contaminated by these algal blooms,” the rights of nature network website says.

If you doubt it, conjure up the vision of the algae blooms that choked Florida waters in 2018 and appeared on the international news, decimating the tourism industry and costing numerous jobs.

The backers of the Right to Clean Water Amendment must get 900,000 signatures by Nov. 30 in order to get the measure on the 2022 ballot. Actually, they have until February, but the signatures must be verified and Mr. O’Neal wants to have enough time to do that.

Mr. Bonasia is more than hopeful. It’s going to happen. I’m fully confident,” he said. Look at the how the Orange County Charter Amendment passed in November with 89% of the vote, he said. “No matter what political background and economic status, democrats and republicans tend to unite in backing environmental initiatives.”

Besides, people are frustrated with inadequate water quality regulations and enforcement. “It’s almost palpable,” he said…..

In the KNOW

Proposed Rights of Nature Amendments

Title: Florida Right to Clean Water Ballot Summary: Prohibits pollution of Florida’s waters by recognizing a right to clean water for all Floridians and Florida waters, including the Everglades, Florida Springs, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, the Caloosahatchee River, Biscayne Bay, Tampa Bay, Pensacola Bay and all other waters within the state; provides for local lawmaking to protect clean water, and provides for enforcement and severability.

Title: Florida Iconic Species Protection Ballot Summary: Enhances protection for the Florida Black Bear, Florida Panther, Manatee, Key Deer, Florida Scrub Jay, Bald Eagle, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bottlenose Dolphin, Right Whale, and Marine Turtles iconic to Florida by banning recreational and commercial hunting of those species, providing a private right of action and standing for Florida citizens to preserve Florida’s Iconic Species and their habitat, protecting the biodiversity of the State, and conserving the State’s symbolic, natural, and cultural heritage.

Title: Florida Wetlands Protection Amendment Ballot Summary: Enhances protection for Florida wetlands, both naturally occurring and man-made, by prohibiting the draining, dredging, filling or other degradation of Florida wetlands, thereby preventing harmful effects such actions have on the ecosystems of wetlands, native wildlife, and the environmental health of Florida.

Title: Captive Wildlife Hunting Ban Ballot Summary: Prohibits captive wildlife hunting in the state of Florida to prevent animal cruelty, preserve and protect Florida native lands, limit disease transmission, protect the public health of Florida citizens, and preserve and protect wildlife species.

Title: Florida Toll Road Expansion Ban Ballot Summary: Prohibits the construction or expansion of toll roads on conservation and rural lands because they destroy natural systems, divide wildlife corridors, and place an increased burden on working families with excessive expenses, decreasing the quality of life for all Floridians.

To see complete text for each amendment, visit

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