A time for new ideas and yes, new laws. The current path we travel leads to failure for all.
If we deplete groundwater to a level where saltwater intrudes into public water supplies, … there’s no going back. We will have squandered our water wealth and wrecked Florida forever.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Legal system isn’t set up to protect environment
By Lucinda Faulkner Merritt / Special to The Sun
Recent news reports about the cumulative impacts of water withdrawals on the Santa Fe River and its associated springs (already designated by the state of Florida as needing to be “in recovery” in regard to lost flow) — especially news about Nestlé‘s request for an amended water use permit at the water bottling plant near Ginnie Springs — have gotten a lot of attention in springs and river defenders’ circles, and for good reasons.
Unfortunately, asking the Suwannee River Water Management District to deny Nestlé’s permit may not have any effect because our current legal system is not set up to protect living natural systems such as the Santa Fe River; instead, our system decides how much harm can legally be permitted.
Several years ago, I attended a program called Democracy School that was run by lawyers from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School in Orlando. Here’s what I learned.
Our laws have historically been written and interpreted to give precedence to business and commerce, to private property rights, to the idea of legal “standing,” and to the ability of state and federal laws to preempt local laws.
In particular, the legal concept of “standing” makes it almost impossible to argue for the restoration, protection and preservation of whole ecosystems (such as the Santa Fe River) unless you own all the land where those ecosystems exist. That’s because those ecosystems have no inherent rights of their own, hence no legal “standing.”
State and federal preemption laws make it almost impossible for local communities to prevent damaging activities such as fracking or phosphate mining that can destroy whole ecosystems. And if corporations or businesses are denied permits for such actions, they can then sue — and almost always win — with the argument that they have lost expected income.
The particular philosophy of law that benefits commerce at the expense of natural systems and community rights made sense to lawmakers when our country was young and unpopulated, but times have changed. We need new conversations about whether those laws serve us well today.
We need look no farther than Florida’s pollution problems and failing springs to see where our old laws have failed us. The most troubling problem is the long-term decline in groundwater levels in the Floridan Aquifer — the same aquifer that feeds our springs and rivers and supplies drinking water for millions of us.
If we deplete groundwater to a level where saltwater intrudes into public water supplies, homeowners’ wells and agriculturalists’ irrigation wells, there’s no going back. We will have squandered our water wealth and wrecked Florida forever. And geologists tell us that every drop of water we use is one less drop for our springs and rivers….
New laws reflecting some of these ideas have been enacted in India, New Zealand, Ecuador, Bolivia and even the USA. At a recent Water Institute Symposium at the University of Florida, keynote speaker Sandra Postel mentioned the growing rights of nature movement that advocates granting legal rights to natural systems. Now, rights of nature efforts are springing up throughout Florida.
If you care about what kind of world we are leaving for our children, please go online to research the activities of the organizations mentioned here.
It’s time to change our laws.
Lucinda Faulkner Merritt lives in Fort White.
Read the rest of the article here in the Gainesville Sun.