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Right to Clean Water backers restart effort to get it on the 2026 ballot

Mass fish kills show the ugly side of the Bay. Carcasses pile up on the shores of Big Bayou Bay, St. Petersburg.
Eric Higgs
Mass fish kills line the Big Bayou area of St. Petersburg during a red tide event in 2021.

Supporters of an amendment that would enshrine a right to clean water in the state constitution are once again ramping up their efforts to get it on the ballot. This time, they're eyeing the 2026 election.

It's called the Right to Clean and Healthy Waters amendment. It would amend the constitution and compel state environmental officials take action to clean up Florida's waters.

Joseph Bonasia of Fort Myers is chairman of the nonprofit group. He said they began their effort on Earth Day 2022, but only collected about 100,000 signatures. He said this time, they have hundreds of volunteers passing out petitions and will start raising money to get the word out about the amendment.

“I don't want people thinking that it's going to be such a far reach,” Bonasia said. “Over the last two years, we have also gathered the support of over 200 organizations and businesses, and even some local governments.”

He said Florida is the only state that is pursuing this not through their legislature, but through a citizen's initiative.

“This is a burgeoning movement,” Bonasia said. “There are about 20 states in the nation that are pursuing amendments kind of like ours. There are two that had them in their amendments since the 1970s, that would be Pennsylvania and Montana.”

They need more than 900,000 signatures to get it on the 2026 ballot.

The push comes as Florida's waterways have been in the news in the past several years. Red tide, blue-green algae outbreaks, and green-tinged springs have resulted in massive fish kills, starving manatees, and cloudy freshwater springs.

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.