Movement grows in Florida to preserve nature and drinking water by granting legal rights to rivers


  • Image via CELDF / Instagram
Efforts in five Florida counties could result in legally enforceable rights for rivers, as a way to save drinking water and ecosystems.

According to a release from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and Speak Up Wekiva on Wednesday, 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 in each county through the citizens’ ballot initiative process or through county charter review commissions. In addition to "Rights of Nature," the proposed laws would also recognize rights of local residents to a healthy environment and clean water. Business entities and governments would be prohibited from violating these rights.

The groups are hoping to allow Floridians in those counties a chance to vote on these measures in 2020.
According to its website, the mission of CELDF is "to establish and protect rights - including worker and environmental rights, and rights of nature." The group is assisting in drafting the measures to "use municipal law-making to recognize the legal rights of ecosystems." This includes taking on corporate polluters of Florida rivers, springs and aquifers, as well as fighting statewide preemption laws.

The CELDF hopes to build the movement, "upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level."

The Florida laws follow the lead of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, passed by Toledo, Ohio, voters in February 2019, and would be among the first in Florida to pursue rights recognition for specific ecosystems. The Lake Erie law was the subject of a Daily Show segment in July.
"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," said Orange County resident Chuck O’Neal in the release. "It will take a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change this equation – and that is happening right now across this state.”

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