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Clean water activist urges action in talk at FGCU's The Water School

Tom Bayles
Maya K. van Rossum, speaking at Florida Gulf Coast University's The Water School, urged students and staff to become involved not only in a statewide effort to change the Florida Constitution to include the right to access clean water, but to work to ensure everybody can experience a healthy environment

An energetic environmental advocate who has dedicated her career to protecting water quality urged students and staff at Florida Gulf Coast University to get involved in a statewide effort to change the Florida Constitution to include the right to access clean water.

Maya K. van Rossum has been the leader for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network since the early 1990s, and has made a name for herself in the larger movement for environmental justice despite race or class nationwide. Her book, “The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to A Healthy Environment,” recently came out in its second edition.

“The national movement I’ve inspired to seek and secure constitutional ‘green amendments’ which lift up environmental rights so they are given the same highest constitutional and legal standing as the other fundamental rights we hold dear like the free speech, freedom of religion, private property rights, even the right to bear arms,” van Rossum said to some 80 students and staff at FGCU's The Water School Friday.

“The Florida Right for Clean Water amendment is a grassroots movement and it’s advancing by ballot initiative so volunteers are organizing to seek and secure enough signatures to allow the amendment to be placed on the ballot come November 2024.”

In Florida, a petition to change the state's constitution, also known as a "citizen initiative," must gather signatures from at least 8% of registered voters in the state. Today that stands at about 766,200 people.

The Florida Supreme Court must approve the initiative's ballot wording, and the Florida Division of Elections must verify that the signatures collected are valid before the initiative can be placed on the ballot.

van Rossen WaterSchool2.jpg
Tom Bayles
van Rossum

van Rossum is an advocate for the protection of water resources and has worked to address a wide range of water pollution issues, including working to ensure that the federal Clean Water Act is enforced.

“I’ve experienced all the myriad of ways that our system of environmental protection laws here in the United States of America fundamentally fail us because they are focused on legalized pollution and degradation and not minimizing harm.”

van Rossum was invited by Jennifer Jones, director of FGCU’s Center for Environment and Society and an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Environmental Studies.

"We are excited to host speakers and guests for the benefit of our students and the community,” Jones said. “Issues like 'green amendments' are opportunities to engage discussions about the connections between people and nature, environmental justice, and the role of policy and law here in Southwest Florida."

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

Sign up for WGCU's monthly environmental newsletter, the Green Flash, today.

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