by David W. Moritz, Director, North Florida Region, Florida Rights of Nature Network
Florida’s water woes are no secret, but now there is something that we, the people, can do about that. If enough of us sign petitions, we can put a state constitutional amendment on Florida’s ballot in 2022—an amendment that will secure the Right to Clean Water for both people and natural systems such as our freshwater springs.
From north to south, Florida’s once-pristine waters are suffering. Springs and rivers in North Florida are polluted and have lost flow. Closer to Central Florida, the Indian River Lagoon is dying and manatees are starving to death. Farther south, polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee to both coasts feed red tide and blue-green algae. All of these problems are accompanied by the financial losses that inevitably accompany ecocide, in a state where tourism is the lifeblood of our economy.
It’s clear from these worsening water conditions that Florida’s water management system—from Governor DeSantis to the Department of Environmental Protection to the directors and staff members of our water management districts—is failing us. And if you think “ecocide” is too strong a word to use for Florida’s situation, a recent report from a politically independent educational nonprofit organization, the Florida Springs Council, might change your mind.
The Council analyzed state spending on water cleanup projects for Outstanding Florida Springs and came to the conclusion that at the rate things are going now, it will take 84 years to remove enough nitrogen to reach water quality goals at Rainbow Springs, 391 years at the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers, and 2,215 years at Silver Springs. And that’s only for pollution prevention! The state’s plans to restore lost flow to those water bodies assume a 20-year recovery time, but we may not have the luxury of waiting 20 years. Some of those already-impaired systems could collapse sooner than that.
There’s a beacon of light in all this darkness because of what happened down in Orange County in the 2020 elections. There, 89% of voters approved a county charter amendment that recognized a Right to Clean Water (RTCW) for both people and natural systems. With that charter amendment now in place, Orange County is the seat of the first rights-of-nature challenge to development (proposed for a wetland) in the United States. And the Florida Rights of Nature Network (FRONN), which mounted the successful Right to Clean Water campaign in Orange County, is taking its efforts statewide.
Putting an amendment to Florida’s state constitution on the 2022 ballot would enable Florida voters—we, the people—to vote “yes” for a secure water future, not only for our drinking water but also for our beloved springs, rivers, lakes, estuaries, lagoons and oceans. In courts of law, rights-based laws in state constitutions trump other state laws, including preemptions of local laws imposed by the Florida legislature and the governor.
Mounting such a petition drive is a monumental effort, and FRONN needs help in order to reach our goal of close to 900,000 signatures statewide by the end of November 2021. If you are a registered Florida voter, here is what we’re asking (and if you’re not yet registered, we hope this effort will inspire you to register).
- Visit the website fl5.org and sign up to be emailed a packet that will contain the RTCW petition and four companion petitions. Those companions involve: protection for wetlands; protection for Florida’s iconic species (black bear, panther, manatee, Key deer, scrub jay, bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, bottlenose dolphin, right whale and marine turtles); a captive wildlife hunting ban; and a prohibition on construction or expansion of toll roads on conservation and rural lands.
- Make sure the petitions you sign are completely filled out, dated, and signed with the signature and address you used when you registered to vote.
- Immediately after you sign, mail the signed and dated petitions to the Maitland address shown on the petition.
- Visit https://fl5.org/join-us and sign up to be trained as a communications ambassador for this effort. Ambassadors receive training on specific talking points and help by gathering petitions and/or by writing and posting about this effort on social media and in local news media.
- Tell two friends or family members about the RTCW petition campaign, ask them to sign petitions and ask them to tell two other people.
- Spread the word via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media outlets you use.
- Talk to your neighbors, co-workers, church and civic group members about the petition campaign.
- Volunteer to help locally by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Volunteer RTCW” in the Subject line.
In the absence of effective state action, it’s time for we, the people, to take a stand for rights to clean water. Please help us!