Suwannee River, Gilchrist County, Florida
Suwannee River, Gilchrist County, Florida
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

Granting ‘rights’ to water, nature could hurt Floridians in any number of ways

Wesley J. Smith
arroba Email

Petition gatherers will soon be trying to qualify one of the most radical constitutional amendments in Florida history for the ballot. The Florida Right to Clean Water initiative masks as a benign proposal to protect the state’s waters from pollution. In reality, the measure would explicitly grant human-type rights to H2O.

Yes, you read right. Despite the measure’s misleading title, the amendment would create a radical environmental regime that would hamper Floridians from making proper uses of water resources. Read the actual language of the proposal online at 

It says: The Everglades; Indian River Lagoon; St. Johns, Caloosahatchee, Suwanee and Santa Fe rivers; Apalachicola, Biscayne, Tampa and Pensacola bays, Florida springs, and all other Florida waters have a right to clean water, and that right shall include the rights of those waters to exist, flow, be free from pollution, and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Beyond granting “rights” to geological features, the term “water” includes just about everything that is wet except rain puddles, being defined as, “all rivers, lakes, streams, springs, impoundments, wetlands, and all other waters or bodies of water, including fresh, brackish, saline, tidal, surface, or underground waters, as well as all coastal waters.”

Not only that, but these “rights” would extend well beyond keeping water clean. For example, the right to “exist” would, among many other likely scenarios, prohibit swamps from being drained. And because it would be a “right” — as opposed to being the subject of reasonable regulations — swamp draining would become prohibited regardless of the human benefit or productive purpose.

Water would also have the right to “flow.” That would seem to prohibit any damming, flood control projects, and diversion of natural waterways — regardless of the human benefit or purpose.

Ditto the right to be “free from pollution,” which implies zero tolerance for anything that dirties water. That, to me, could include everything from the impacts of boating to forbidding farming because of potential runoff. Good grief, “maintaining a healthy ecosystem” could conceivably prevent the building of docks if they destroyed clam habitat.

Here’s the truly dangerous part: Anyone and everyone in the state would be entitled to enforce the “rights” of water: Here is the amendment’s language on that issue:

“Waters may enforce and defend the rights secured by this Section through an action brought by any resident, nongovernmental organization, or government entity of this state … in the name of the waters as the real party in interest.”

The goal is to allow the most radical environmentalists and anti-water-use fanatics to weaponize the courts to impose their desires on the state’s property owners and government entities.

At the very least, it would open the door to a form of blackmail: “That’s a nice water project you got planned. It would be a shame if someone sued you for violating the water’s rights. But pay this protection, er — legal settlement — and you can build your nice little beach condo.”

And just try to get a liability policy for a business enterprise if it could be deemed to impact the “rights” of water.

The bottom line: If a proposed use of water would interfere with its natural flow, it could be stopped. If a pipeline tapped underground water for human use, it could be closed. If a dike was built to control flooding, it could be torn down. And since there is no grandfather clause protecting existing infrastructure that would violate the “rights” of water, businesses and governments accused of violating the rights of water could be sued into oblivion.

What chance does it have of passage? Better than you might think. Proponents will have a lot of radical green money to sell it to unknowing voters as a benign clean water measure. Moreover, I fear that opponents — perhaps complacently thinking the idea is just too radical to pass — will not spend the resources required to keep the amendment from becoming part of the Florida Constitution.

The best way to stop this subversive proposal is to keep it off the ballot. So, if a signature gatherer asks you to sign their petition to help clean up Florida’s water, tell them to go pound sand. Granting “rights” to water is not only horrible public policy, but its intended and unintended consequences can fairly be called anti-human.