Freedom of speech, religion, assembly, work: many Floridians know that these rights are guaranteed by their federal and state constitutions. But the right to drinking water? Not found.
A group of clean water advocates are working to change that.
On Thursday, they announced a desire to add the “right to clean and healthy waters” as a state constitutional amendment in the 2024 ballot. To qualify, the amendment needs 891,589 signed petitions and checked.
“Everyone deserves the right to safe drinking water,” says organizer Joe Bonasia. “We don’t currently have it.”
He realizes this may come as a surprise, but it’s true, says Bonasia. And that’s why an amendment is needed, he says.
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“We have very critical interests involved in clean water, such as our health, the health of our local and national economies, the value of our properties depends on clean water, the wildlife that we cherish so much here depends on the clean water,” Bonasia said. , a retired English teacher who moved to Cape Coral six years ago. “The system is failing us right now. … We want to amend the state constitution to give every Floridian a basic right to clean, healthy waters … a law that cannot be overturned (or) changed by the state legislature.
Bonasia says the amendment would come into effect to cover things like the wanton clearing of mangroves, chronically polluted public waters and the destruction of wetlands.
Former charter boat captain and owner of a waterfront motel in Matlacha, Karl Deigert, points out that the state has already lost 9.3 million acres of wetlands – “half of what we had before. Sadly, this is the biggest loss of wetlands in the country… We need to stop the crazies, and this amendment helps us do that. (It) draws the line and says, ‘No more, this enough.”
Unlike laws, which can be ignored or fancifully interpreted, Bonasia says, an amendment “gives us the ability to hold the state accountable…Eventually, the accountability stops with the state (and) the law is unassailable,” Bonasia says, four syllables meaning solid, or as Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute puts it, “Unable to be altered or undone, generally used to describe an absolute interest in real estate that cannot be changed.”
So far the group has a website, a political action committee and is looking for funding and volunteers as well as citizens to sign the petition.
Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani says there is an urgent need for such a remedy because the existing system, in which the state has seen massive cyanobacteria blooms, persistent red tides and an ever-growing list of water troubles in recent years, does not get the job Finished.
In 2010, there were 2,300 miles of polluted rivers and streams in Florida, Cassani says. In 2020, it was 9,000 miles. “It’s quadrupled in just a decade,” Cassani said. “It’s not just a failure, it’s getting worse faster.”
“It’s unsustainable, and it’s going to get worse in the context of human health…The current legal framework that interprets state and federal laws makes no difference in restoring our waters,” Cassani said. “We need something else. We need something that is not subject to interpretation by a politicized magistrate.
That’s where the amendment would come in, says Bonasia. “It creates a fundamental right for every Floridian to clean, healthy waters – and the operative word is fundamental. In our amendment, a fundamental right takes precedence over lesser rights such as the right to property.
Despite the common belief that federal legislation like the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 provides such protections, “nothing in the Clean Water Act guarantees Americans the right to safe drinking water,” Bonasia said.
“Warranty is the key word,” says Cassani. “The Clean Water Act uses terms like ‘as far as possible’ and ‘reasonable and beneficial’,” he says, leaving it up to judges to interpret the laws. “What does the maximum mean?” What is reasonable? Cassani asks. “It is the basis of concern and frustration. Even if the statutes and rules say, “That’s the way it should be,”…or if it says the right in the statute (violations) shouldn’t happen, they still happen. There is no end.
“So if you can define those in terms of establishing a threshold for enforcement, fine, but it will provide a clearer threshold in how we can access rights. Rights provide the highest protection.
Citizens of other states like Pennsylvania and Montana have tried similar measures, and so far, according to Bonasia, they seem to be working. For example, in the Adirondack Mountains, hundreds of lakes have been destroyed by acid rain, Bonasia says. Although these states’ attorneys general argued for years and years, “the only thing that changed was when they sued the EPA for not enforcing Clean Air Act standards,” did he declare. “That would be it.”
He acknowledges that it won’t be easy. “It’s a Herculean task, to be quite honest,” Bonasia said. “We need to get some 900,000 petitions signed.”
But Deigert thinks that because it’s a concern for everyone, support should be broad. “Drinking water is one of the few issues that everyone can befriend, crossing party lines, because it affects us all, in so many different aspects of our lives in Florida. Only those who currently benefit from a failing system, at our expense, at our expense, will be against it.
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Volunteer, donate, download the petition at FloridaRightToCleanWater.org. Donations can be mailed to the FloridaRightToCleanWater.org Policy Committee, 13300 S. Cleveland Ave, Suite 56, Fort Myers, 33907.