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Natural Awakenings Space & Treasure Coast Florida

Florida Artist Joins Campaign for Right to Clean Water

Oct 01, 2020 11:49AM ● By Linda Sechrist

Naples artist Paul Arsenault’s passion for the beauty of Florida’s natural environment is evident in his intricate, colorful renderings. This deep love of the environment set the stage for collaboration with Lee County Rights of Nature (LeeRON), which is part of the Florida Rights of Nature Network (FRONN), as well as the Rights of Nature worldwide movement to legally recognize the entitlement of ecosystems to exist, flourish and evolve naturally; the inalienable rights of human beings to clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems; and the constitutional authority of local governments to declare and defend these rights. Rights of Nature also recognizes that our current regulatory system, highly subject to corporate influence and changing political systems, is failing us and the Earth. 


FRONN is a grassroots collaboration of local initiatives across Florida working in charter counties to protect nature's rights, people's rights to a healthy environment, and home rule. Arsenault supports LeeRON and FRONN efforts to assist and support citizens in amending their local city/county charter to create constitutionally framed environmental protections in their community. Joe Bonasia, director of education for LeeRON, works with Chuck O’Neal, president of FRONN, toward passing a Right to Clean Water Charter Amendment. Also known as the Wekiva River and Econlockhatchee River Bill of Rights (WEBOR), the proposed amendment to the Orange County Charter appears on the Orange County November ballot as Charter Question #1.

Home Rule Under Attack

O’Neal notes that community self-governance is under attack. “Corporate interests help fund political campaigns, and in return get the laws they want. Increasingly, these are state laws expressly meant to preempt local laws, gutting the powers of municipal governments and defying the will of the people. The game is rigged in favor of corporations and against citizens and the home rule powers of local governments. The failure of plastic bag and sunscreen bans in Coral Gables and Key West due to preemptive state laws are glaring examples,” he advises.

The current regulatory system regards nature as merely property, therefore anyone with a title to the land has the legal right to harm it. “Human and natural communities that don’t have title to or a financial interest in the land lack legal standing to argue in court for protection. However, the individual or corporation that holds title of ownership does have standing. Granting legal rights to nature provides it and its human guardians the standing to defend the natural world in court. Rights provide the highest level of protection under law,” remarks O’Neal.

Wekiva River and Econlockhatchee River Bill of Rights 

In March, the Orange County Charter Review Commission voted to place the Wekiva River and Econlockhatchee River Bill of Rights on the county ballot. This is a first for Florida and the nation. Once approved by voters, this amendment will establish the right of these rivers to exist and be protected from pollution, as well as the right of residents to clean water. 

“While our entire state is dependent on its hydrology, all rivers in Orange County and 75 percent of our largest lakes are listed as impaired. Clean water in our lakes, rivers, canals, wetlands and Gulf of Mexico is vital to Florida’s tourism, its number one economic driver. We have reached a crucial point with polluted rivers and lakes suffering algae blooms, the over consumption of water and the destruction of wetlands. Now is the time for we, the people, to save our state from what appears to be this new but unacceptable normal,” says O’Neal.

Groundwater Contaminants in Orange County

Contaminants of concern are present in groundwater and drinking water from many sources, such as erosion of natural deposits, fertilizers, pesticides, septic systems, agricultural uses, improper disposal as well as accidental discharges of hazardous waste and petroleum compounds, especially fuel storage tanks, drycleaners, stormwater runoff from roads, buildings, lawns, industrial and energy production facilities, and many other sources. 

Many citizens are unaware of the immense quantity of contaminants of concern in Orange county groundwater.  An example of known contamination is the presence of 81 identified cattle dipping vats, which were used in early 1900s until approximately 1962 to eradicate ticks in cattle and animals, and typically contain arsenic, and other known probable carcinogens such as DDE, DDT, DDD and toxaphene. 

Right to Clean Water 

“FRONN is in six Florida cities that are actively putting the Right to Clean Water amendment into play. When we are successful in Orange county with our ordinance, which does not violate Florida’s recently passed Senate Bill 712 increasing the signature threshold for citizen’s initiatives, we will be the template for any Florida municipality or city. Although there have been about three dozen cities and townships passing rights of nature ordinances, Orange will be the first county in the nation to do so

Nature has no means to defend itself from municipal and corporate economic actors that view themselves above nature. No longer can we afford to view nature as an endless resource to be exploited for human wants, profit and greed. RON laws are an expedient method to bring change to stop and reverse destructive impacts.

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