Never should it come to this. The Florida Right to Clean Water is a petition movement sweeping its way across the Sunshine State. Its goal is to place an amendment to the Florida Constitution on the November 2024 ballot.
The language in the amendment is self-explanatory: Fix Florida’s waterways and stop polluting them. Make state agencies enforce laws on the books and quit trying to squirm out of them. And when the agencies assigned to protect the water don’t do their jobs, Floridians have the right to sue. Legal action takes precedent over politics.
Clean water in Florida is not just for Republicans or Democrats. It’s for all of us.
Special interest stranglehold
As Floridians, protecting our waterways should be incumbent upon all of us — whether we’re fifth generation or just moved here a few months ago. Lately, the tentacles of special interests have wormed their way into the halls of the Florida Capitol. They’ve placed an ever-increasing stranglehold on the politicians in Tallahassee.
Polluters pay to keep politicians in office. In return, the elected do their bidding.
Florida’s waterways suffer. So do property values, businesses, wildlife and people. Communities suffer.
Even when Gov. Ron DeSantis pledges billions to fix the water, the results are the same year to year. Dead manatees soured the Indian River Lagoon on the state’s Atlantic side. Red tides ruin spring breaks and summer vacations on the state’s Gulf coast. Springs in northern Florida are drained for profit or polluted. Inland lakes and canals throughout turn green with toxic algae harmful to people, pets and wildlife.
Health department officials run ragged all summer placing “Don’t touch the water” signs on half of the state’s waterways.
“It’s easier to stop people from fishing and boating than it is to clean up the mess in the water,” said Laurilee Thompson, owner of Titusville’s famous Dixie Crossroads restaurant.
Manatee deaths, polluted runoff
Meanwhile, lobbyists get their way in Tallahassee. State legislators try every year to make it harder for county residents to control their own development and manage their own watersheds.
“We can’t get our elected officials to do what we need them to do,” said Blair Wickstrom of Stuart, former publisher of Florida Sportsman, the state’s most widely circulated fishing and boating magazine.
Who are these politicians working for? Not anyone who uses the water, clearly.
It’s why an amendment is necessary. The system of having lawmakers create strong laws to stop polluters is broken. It’s so bad, in fact, that VoteWater Executive Director Gil Smart dubbed the 2023 legislative period the “Session of Sprawl.”
“What about when there aren’t any clean-water candidates running for a House seat? Environmental legislation in Tallahassee is outgunned and out-financed. What do you do when special interests run the show?” Smart said. “We can’t keep doing this to Florida’s waters. There will be a time when they don’t bounce back.”
Getting the Right to Clean Water on the ballot in 2024 is a heavy lift. A few years ago, the state Legislature raised the bar on requirements to get an issue added for a statewide election. Now, 900,000 registered voter signatures are required by November 2023 to make an amendment to the constitution eligible.
Once on the ballot, I’m confident the voters of Florida will approve it overwhelmingly. Twice before, Floridians have approved measures to protect their lands and waters by over 72% each time. The last time, in 2014, wasn’t a strong enough message for lawmakers. They raided funds meant for lands to use on purposes other than what the measure intended.
Find out more at the Florida Right to Clean Water. A network of petition-gatherers will be out at your local grocery store or seafood festival or downtown art show. Sign the petition if you’re a registered voter in Florida. Or download, print and mail it at Floridarighttocleanwater.org/petition.
Ed Killer is a columnist with TCPalm. This column was originally published by Treasure Coast Newspapers/TCPalm.com, which is part of the Invading Sea, a collaborative of Florida editorial boards, including the Tampa Bay Times, focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.