Floridians Must Establish Right to Clean Water
By Matt DePaolis, SCCF Environmental Policy Director
Florida’s water is our most valuable natural resource. Throughout the state, Floridian’s ecology, economy, and way of life are intrinsically tied to our water quality.
From the oyster beds of Apalachicola, to the central springs, to the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, down to North America’s only coral reef in the Keys, the waters of Florida teem with life, drive our tourism-based economies, and make Florida a desirable place to live, work, and play.
This is why it is so devastating that the waters of Florida are almost uniformly imperiled. Florida leads the nation in many things, like tourist dollars, coral reefs, and winter tomato production.
However, no one celebrated when the news broke last year that on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Florida was leading the country in total acres of lakes classified as impaired for swimming and aquatic life. The report by the Environmental Integrity Project also named Florida second for most square miles of impaired estuaries, behind only Louisiana.
To counter that reality, Floridians must establish a fundamental Right to Clean Water. Currently, signatures are being collected to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot that would do just that. The proposed amendment would establish a right to clean and healthy waters for all Floridians.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed with the intention of helping states manage pollution in their water bodies and giving them the tools to save their waterways. Each state has an agency in charge of monitoring its waterways and developing a plan to clean them up, and Florida is no different.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) keeps a database of Florida’s impaired water bodies and works to establish Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) to determine how best to maintain and improve their water quality.
Although Florida has been actively participating in this process, it doesn’t seem to be having the intended effect, as year after year we see more impaired waterways.
This probably won’t come as a shock to most Floridians, as we see the impacts of mismanagement wherever we look. Reduced water quality has impacts from the relatively minor like a reduction in clarity of our waterways to the massive toxic blue green algal blooms and red tides that are harmful to people and deadly for the environment.
Even if people aren’t in the water every day, it’s impossible to ignore the images of dead fish and starving manatees on the front pages of our newspapers.
The question remains, what can be done about this issue? Seemingly there are systems in place and numerous laws intended to improve and protect our waters. The issue is not a lack of public desire, nor the aptitude of the state. Unfortunately, the issue rests in the enforcement of the regulations.
While FDEP is tasked with protecting our waters, there is no mechanism to ensure that they are enforcing their own regulations.
This is why Floridians must establish a fundamental right to clean water to allow citizens to sue state executive agencies for the harm caused to Florida’s waters through their actions. If passed, Floridians could make sure that our agencies are working for Florida to enforce the laws that we have tasked them with upholding.
The waters of our state nourish our ecosystems, provide drinking water for millions of people, support complex natural systems, and bring people from all over the world to visit our great state. On multiple occasions, Floridians have banded together to give our government the tools to protect the natural resources that are held in trust for all Floridians.
It is time to come together once more to ensure that the agencies are using the power we have granted them by ensuring a fundamental right to clean water in Florida. Please support the ballot initiative by signing the petition to put the issue on the ballot in 2024. This will allow Floridians to vote directly for a right to clean water and give each Floridian a tool to protect our water.
To sign the petition and more information about the amendment visit www.floridarighttocleanwater.org.