Former US Senator Bob Graham stated that turning over state waters to private organizations would cause considerable damage to the Everglades and result in Florida losing control over 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.
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.