The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday became the first county in Florida to pass a resolution in support of a proposed state constitutional amendment related to clean water.
The BOCC unanimously passed the resolution as part of its Tuesday regular meeting, which fell on Valentine’s Day.
“I am definitely in support of this resolution and the idea of it as a valentine to our water and our natural resources,” Commission Chair Anna Prizzia said.
The resolution doesn’t direct any action, but instead promotes the protection of water resources.
Steve Hofstetter, the director of the county’s environmental protection division, said the resolution had received approval from members of the environmental protection advisory committee at a recent meeting, and the county staff recommended the BOCC pass it.
“By the adoption of this resolution, the board expresses support for equitable remedies and solutions to protecting our vital water resources, including enshrining the right to clean and healthy waters in the Florida Constitution,” Hofstetter said in introducing the item.
David Moritz, who is the North Florida regional coordinator for the Florida Right to Clean Water’s statewide effort, said a constitutional amendment was needed to give Floridians more power in challenging potential polluters and in holding state agencies accountable for protecting the state’s water and wetlands.
“In this amendment, the right to clean and healthy water is elevated to the same level as other rights are… our right to carry a gun, right to freedom of speech—the things that we really hold sacred in our society,” Moritz said.
Currently, people wishing to challenge state-issued permits for pollution emissions must first file a complaint with the state’s division of administrative hearings, which is part of the executive branch and not the judicial branch. In an interview, Moritz said making clean water a constitutional right means Floridians could skip the administrative hearings, which may take several months to a year to complete, and file challenges directly in state court.
Moritz said he was happy about the BOCC’s resolution.
“To me, this is a tribute to all the people around the state of Florida who are working hard right now to get this amendment passed to keep our water clean,” Moritz told commissioners.
Moritz said he will be approaching other cities and counties to pass similar resolutions in support of the amendment.
“I see it as being a very, very positive thing in terms of influencing other cities,” he said.
The Florida Right to Clean Water organization would like to add it to the November 2024 ballot, which will mean collecting approximately 900,000 verified voter signatures.
Mortiz said the organization’s initial goal is to collect the approximately 223,000 signatures needed to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the amendment’s language. Because the petition signatures have to be verified by the Supervisors of Elections in each county by February 2024, the group aims to have the necessary signatures collected by this November.
The Florida Right to Water organization is being helped statewide with its signature collection from other organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters.
The local chapter is hoping to collect 3,000 petition signatures, according to the Alachua County League of Women Voters website.
“The right to clean water amendment would put water health where it belongs – as a constitutional right of all Floridians to be treasured and protected,” said Janice Garry, the president Alachua County League of Women Voters, told the commission on Tuesday.