White Pine - The Sustainable Real Estate Journal

Sustainable Design Principles and Innovation,
Merging Building Technology with the Forces of Nature

Legally Enforceable Rights for Rivers Advanced in Five Florida Counties

  by Mari Margil

In the face of state and federal inaction amidst mounting ecological devastation, grassroots groups in Alachua, Orange, Lee, Brevard, and Osceola counties are advancing county-wide laws to recognize the legally enforceable rights of the Santa Fe River, Wekiva River, Econlockhatchee River, Caloosahatchee River, Indian River Lagoon and the Kissimmee River.

The laws are being proposed either through the citizens’ initiative process or through county charter review commissions. In addition to Rights of Nature, the laws also recognize rights of local residents to a healthy environment and clean water. Business entities and governments are prohibited from violating these rights. Efforts are aimed at giving Floridians the opportunity to vote on these measures in 2020.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the measures as part of a growing movement to use municipal law-making to recognize the legal rights of ecosystems, and to challenge corporate power and undemocratic forms of state preemption that have allowed the degradation of rivers, springs, and aquifers in Florida.

“Florida residents are increasingly aware that the problems with our water originate from the concept that corporations have the rights of humans while nature and aquatic ecosystems have no legal rights. We have seen this past week that this imbalance of rights continues to generate negative consequences in Florida and around the world. It will take a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change this equation – and that is happening right now across this state,” says Chuck O’Neal, of Orange County.

The Florida laws are among the first in the nation to pursue recognition of rights for specific ecosystems. They follow the lead of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, passed by Toledo, Ohio, voters in February 2019.
Residents speak out:
“Groundwater in the Floridan aquifer forms the springs that feed the Santa Fe River. The same groundwater provides our drinking water – so if we save the springs and river, we also save our drinking water.” – David Moritz, Alachua County
“The Caloosahatchee River’s right to exist must be elevated to the highest level allowed. We must recognize the rights of the river if we are to protect the ecosystem and residents’ health and safety.” – Karl Deigert, Lee County
“Our river was destroyed in the name of flood control, killing the wildlife it supported. A Kissimmee River Bill of Rights will ensure that this living breathing ecosystem will never be assaulted again.” – Barbara Cady, Osceola County
“We have a community of good people fighting a broken system to protect our waters. We must unite in the realization that the system has failed us. It doesn’t work – at least, not for us. We must therefore shift our paradigm and plainly declare the inherent rights of nature.” – Melissa Martin, Brevard County