Column: Florida's future hangs in balance

Drought, regulatory neglect and nutrient pollution from fertilizer, manure and septic tanks contributed to Florida’s Santa Fe River, shown here in May 2012, being slime-encrusted.
Drought, regulatory neglect and nutrient pollution from fertilizer, manure and septic tanks contributed to Florida’s Santa Fe River, shown here in May 2012, being slime-encrusted.
Published Feb. 18, 2014

Editor's note: On Tuesday, nature photographer John Moran, who is co-director of the Springs Eternal Project, was one of several people who gave speeches on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee during the "We Want Clean Water Rally." Here are his remarks, condensed and edited for publication.

We join today on the Capitol steps to reflect on water and Florida's future. And from where we stand, this is what we see.

We see that mightiest river in Florida is the river of denial that courses through the hearts and minds of those to whom we have entrusted the reins of power here.

For decades, we've seen our precious waters trending south. And for decades, we've heard the litany of delay and denial.

First it was, "We don't have a problem here," and then, "We can't afford to fix this," and now we're told we need more studies, "so that sound science can point the way."

We know that clean and abundant water lies at the heart of the Florida experience. But our appeals, spoken in the language of science and social responsibility and plain old common sense, have been no match for powerful polluters who think nothing of using our public waters as their private sewers.

The writer Oscar Wilde reminds us that "cynicism is the art of seeing life as it is instead of as it ought to be." But you needn't be a cynic to see that money is the language of Tallahassee, and that an appeal to the wallet resonates more deeply here than an appeal to the heart.

Well, we can speak that language too. I believe that Gov. Reubin Askew had it right when he declared in 1971 that "ecological destruction in Florida is nothing less than economic suicide."

What Askew gave voice to is the recognition that no matter how you define the good life here in Florida, a healthy environment is our greatest economic asset. Not only is water the stuff of life, our springs and rivers and lakes and coastal waters define Florida's identity on the world stage.

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared Florida as "the top travel destination in the world." But what's the real engine of Florida's tourism economy?

It's not just the sunshine and theme parks; it's the water that pulls them in — 90 million visitors last year, following in the footsteps of Ponce de León, drawn by the myth of our magical waters.

It is the very idea of Florida as a watery wonderland that is the bedrock of our economy.

In your conversations with your friends and neighbors and legislators, I encourage you to pose this simple question: What will the value of the Florida brand be when the dirty reality of Florida's waters eclipses our reputation?

Talk about a game-changer; what do you suppose will happen when our reputation, like our formerly pristine waters, reaches the tipping point and the stench of dead and dying pelicans and manatees and dolphins is exceeded only by the stench of our dying tourism economy?

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Dear Florida Legislature: Among the many reasons you should protect our waters, consider this: Water — clean water — is like a good reputation.

When you've got it, you don't even think about it. And when you lose it, it's the only thing you think about.

Just as water is easier to keep clean than to make clean, so too is Florida's reputation for natural abundance and clean water easier to protect than to earn back. And if you think clean water is expensive, consider the alternative.

We must clean up our waters. I know it can be done. We must embrace change not because we are governed by law, but because we are governed by conscience.

And to my fellow Floridians, and especially our business leaders, I say: We need a new era of environmental patriotism here in Florida.

We must stop overpumping the aquifer. And we must stop pollution at its source.

We can no longer afford to buy the false dichotomy that would have us choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment, for the former will surely wither and die without the latter.

Our springs and rivers and lakes and coastal waters are world-class treasures. They deserve world-class protection.

I believe there is no issue more important to the future well-being of our state. And nothing less than the soul of Florida hangs in the balance.

Learn more at Learn more about the Floridians' Clean Water Declaration Campaign at