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Graham blasts water ‘privatization’

by Dara Kam | January 17th, 2012

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham cautioned lawmakers and environmentalists this morning that “privatizing” state waters would cause “considerable damage” to the Everglades and cause Floridians to lose control of thousands of acres of wetlands.

“There’s no project in Florida that would be more adversely affected,” said Graham, who was a member of the legislature more than four decades ago and then governor when some of the state’s water and conservation policies were first created.

Graham was in town as environmentalists, government officials – including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Rick Scott – and others gathered nearby for a day-long Everglades Water Supply Summit.

Speaking to the Florida Legislative Everglades Caucus, Graham called on them to reject two water measures he called “not just the camel’s nose but the camel’s neck and shoulders under the tent of privatization of water.

The first (HB 639) would allow utilities to have permanent ownership of water they have used and treated. The other (HB 1103) would change the definition of the “high water line” that determines where private property ends and state-owned waters begin. Critics, including Graham, say the measure would cause the state to lose hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands after years of litigation determining what the water line means.

“When we privatize ownership of Florida’s water resources, it takes water away from the Everglades. It’s just pure and simple. You can spend a bunch of money trying to get water into the Everglades but if somebody owns it, you’ll never get it there,” said Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper.

Graham also urged lawmakers to undo a move that gave the legislature more control over the state’s five water management districts, to boost money to the state’s land conservation program Florida Forever.

But the biggest threat to the River of Grass would be an end to the cooperation between state and federal officials to restore the state’s ecological treasure, the former governor advised. The protracted Everglades restoration projects have caused fear that the effort is unraveling.

“The thing that would be the most fatal to Everglades restoration is if this marriage between the state of Florida and the federal government were to be broken. Neither partner alone either has the financial or legal capabilities of carrying this off,” Graham said.

A poll released this morning found that 64 percent of voters surveyed favored increased spending on Everglades restoration, up from 51 percent who supported increased funding in a February 2011 survey.

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One Response to “Graham blasts water ‘privatization’”

  1. Jim Olson Says:

    Senator Graham’s warning is substantively correct, and points to an alarming violation of and interference with state water and natural resorce law by the government. Neither the federal government nor state government can transfer ownership of water, once used and treated, because it is used and treated by utilities or any private landowner under a common law that grants a right of use only, not ownership. The common law, by definition, requires a return of the water used by an owner to the watershed and aquifer, precisely for the reason that if not, there would be serious damage to wetlands, water resources, wildlife, but also to public and private use of water. Moreover, water is, to the extent it is capable, under control and held by the sovereign state of Florida (i.e. the people), and cannot be transferred by federal government or the state. In addition, the public trust in the water, to extent it is connected to lakes, streams, and adjacent wetlands is part of the public trust, and water cannot be withheld or controlled, i.e. “owned” by any utility or other person for private purposes or where it would cause harm to public trust uses and resources, or would violate the public trust doctrine.

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