Phosphate Industry Mining Central Florida Watersheds
Florida’s riparian lands and navigable waterways are being decimated by phosphate industry draglines on a daily basis. Florida’s elected officials “permit” phosphate industry officials to strip mine in central Florida’s watersheds degrading drinking water quality and quantity.
The state of Florida owns all riparian lands and navigable waterways held in “trust” for the public at large by the sovereignty granted to Florida at statehood in 1845 by the United States of America. The lands under “public” navigable waterways are defined as riparian in nature and not to be altered in any way without state consent. Additionally, anyone purchasing land holding such natural waterways must use the land so as “not to interfere with the public’s right to use the waterway over the land” (i.e., river bottom) in question and must recognize common law riparian rights when ones actions affect the land. An example of altering the bottom of a waterway may be strip mining, dredging, building a pier, or boat dock.
What are riparian land rights you may ask? Riparian rights are those given to lands incident to navigable waterways (3). For example, the land tracts owned by the phosphate industry adjacent to or containing waterways holding riparian “public” lands from the low water mark to the high water mark in the waterway and cannot be privately owned, blocked, or altered. These lands are held in trust by the state of Florida as public domain since 1845 and is based on Florida's Public Trust Doctrine.
Florida Phosphate Officials Disrespect Public Trust
However, phosphate industry officials direct operations to strip mine large tracts of land including riparian lands and navigable waterways for the phosphate 30 to 50 feet beneath the landscape. Some of the lands being strip mined by Florida’s phosphate industry are riparian lands. Some of the waterways the phosphate industry alters are navigable waterways. Both instances (2) are highly controversial and may be illegal in some circumstances based on the U.S. Constitution and Florida laws as well. However, changing riparian lands or navigable waterways to better “public uses” may be allowed and is encouraged by the state.
In another example, a large tract of land called the Altman Tract is owned by the phosphate industry and contains navigable waterways with riparian lands. The phosphate industry cannot alter the waterway or the land under the waterway in a way that interferes with downstream riparian lands rights and downstream waterway users. However, the phosphate industry is entirely removing waterways from the surface of the earth while stripping riparian lands as well. Why are Florida’s elected officials and public media silent concerning the above industry practices? Producing “public awareness” on this topic is almost unheard by most of Florida’s taxpayers, says the Florida Institute for Phosphate Research, FIPR. Is the Public to believe this fact is coincidental?
In the last example, upstream waterway users cannot interfere with the natural characteristics of the navigable waterway that adversely affects downstream users. Riparian lands and navigable waterways are granted to the public by the state of Florida as public domain and may be used by anyone for travel, commerce, leisure, and the like. However, when state politics are used to rewrite history related to Florida’s lands being “public domain” or sovereign based on statehood, then all state laws may be subjugate and seemingly encouraged by Florida’s elected officials.
Riparian Lands and Navigable Waterways
Unfortunately, Florida’s phosphate industry purchases large tracts of land holding “public” navigable waterways and riparian lands to strip mine for phosphate. These large tracts of land are located in west central Florida, home to many environmentally challenged critical riparian lands and public waterways providing safe drinking water to millions of people year after year. Most of central Florida’s drinking water is produced by regional watersheds.
What are navigable waterways you may ask? Navigable waterways are defined as water bodies offering possible benefits for “public uses” (2). Navigable waterways are not limited by the ability to navigate a vessel on the waterway. Public uses cover a broad range of possibilities, including drinking water, leisure, commerce, travel, and the like.
Large land tracts which contain riparian land and navigable waterways in the central Florida watersheds are owned by the state since the time of statehood in 1845. The problem occurs when the state’s elected officials “permit” (1) mining in large tracts of land in central Florida’s watersheds to the phosphate industry knowing the industry draglines will strip everything including “public rights” from the earth’s surface until it finds phosphate.
Florida Elected Officials Don't Deserve Public Trust
State officials also know that strip mining in the regional watersheds historically degrades drinking water quality and quantity and will from now on, says the Department of Environmental Protection. State officials know the severe environmental impacts caused by the phosphate industry but continue to “permit” strip mining in state riparian lands and navigable waterways critical for millions of Florida taxpayer’s safe public drinking water resources.
Let your elected officials know how you feel on the subject of phosphate strip mining degrading Florida’s drinking water.