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Florida Public Trust Doctrine

Bone Valley Phosphate Mines

Over the past seventy years, Florida’s phosphate industry let many man-made severe environmental accidents occur one after another over the years, causing serious environmental impacts to pristine “one of a kind” ecological regions of Florida. The Florida taxpayers are also paying for the court costs, attorney fees, and the like while the court battles continue daily between federal and state environmental agencies versus Florida’s industry officials.

Lithia Springs - Spring Opening

(Fig. 1) Lithia Springs- Spring Opening


The Peace River watershed lies in west central Florida about forty miles east of the Tampa Bay area. Florida’s Peace River was declared an “endangered river” by “American Rivers.org,” a non-profit organization committed to protecting and restoring North American rivers.

The central Florida region holds unique pristine watersheds, marshlands, bogs, and other freshwater naturally occurring filtering systems. Watersheds are areas of land with waterways that flow to a common destination. Most of the region's drinking water is pumped from aquifers that are “recharged” from the watersheds described above.
Peace River Spring Fed Tributary(Fig. 3) Peace River Spring Fed Tributary

Florida Phosphate Mining And Florida's Public Trust Doctrine-1845

During the past seventy years of phosphate strip mining in west-central Florida, the phosphate industry has at some time been faced with strip mining navigable waterways and riparian lands as defined by “The Public Trust Doctrine”. The doctrine defines navigable waterways and riparian lands adjacent to the waterways as public domain. The Public Trust Doctrine is consistent year after year the basis for The Florida Supreme Court decisions in matters disputing the validity of public waterways and public lands or “sovereignty lands.”

The Florida Supreme Court is no stranger to cases involving navigable waterways and riparian lands. The Court consistently through the years based their decisions on “navigability” using The Public Trust Doctrine as a guide since the turn of the twentieth century. The latest case involving the Peace River and watershed concerns “swamp deeds”. The Public Trust Doctrine was found to trump all “property deeds of ownership” by individuals claiming rights of ownership through “swamp deeds” to public waterways and riparian lands. Clearly the Florida judicial system historically sides with the Public Trust Doctrine, seeming constitutional in practice. Florida’s Supreme Court relies on the Public Trust Doctrine to settle many disputes concerning navigable waterways and riparian lands.

An empirical example of navigable waterways and riparian lands is an area in west central Florida called the Peace River Basin and Watershed. This particular watershed is known to be traveled by early pioneers and Native Americans before 1845, so at the time of statehood in 1845, the Peace River watershed became the property of the state of Florida given by sovereignty of the United States for public use in transportation, commerce, leisure, and the like.

Unfortunately, Florida’s phosphate industry land is also located in the Peace River watershed. Phosphate industry officials may direct mining operations to strip mine public (3) waterways and riparian lands without much ado from agents of the state charged with protecting Florida’s public waterways and land. It appears the phosphate industry may be illegally strip mining public lands and waterways. Some of the large tracts in question which also hold navigable waterways in the Peace River watershed are being strip mined daily. The public lands and waterways described above are “permitted” by state officials to be strip mined for phosphate. Sadly, Florida’s citizens are unaware of the severe environmental impacts caused by phosphate industry practices.

However, state officials issuing permits to the phosphate industry may not have sovereign authority to do so, based on the Public Trust Doctrine (2). Constitutionally, Florida state officials have no “power to convey” navigable waterways and riparian lands to any entity, said in a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. The Court said Florida’s elected officials cannot convey public lands and waterways because they do not have the “sovereign authority” to do so.

The Public Trust Doctrine is a living document due to many reasons, but one reason in particular. When Florida land surveyors first surveyed Florida and all that it includes, the surveyors did such a terrible job that their results were found to be in error in most cases and cannot be trusted for accuracy. Many navigable waterways and riparian lands were never surveyed as intended causing large tracts of land holding public waterways and lands to be sold or misappropriated by mistake. Either way, public waterways and lands have been and continue to be strip mined by Florida’s phosphate industry.

Large tracts of land in the Peace River watershed apparently may be conveyed in error by state officials not authorized to do so based on The Public Trust Doctrine. This may be the case with phosphate industry property in the Peace River watershed where phosphate strip mining occurs daily. If this is the case, then the appropriate state agencies may be unaware of their responsibilities concerning The Public Trust Doctrine.

Florida’s citizens are unaware of the loss of Florida’s public waterways and lands by strip mining over the years because little information is mentioned locally to bring public awareness on this subject to the forefront. Year after year the phosphate industry insidiously strip mines more possible navigable waterways and riparian lands hid from public view or knowledge.

Florida’s elected officials also filter critical environmental information about severe environmental impacts caused by the phosphate industry. (1) Florida elected officials were aware and understood public rights are being overlooked concerning The Public Trust Doctrine in the Peace River watershed.


1. Public Trust Doctrine. - www.guides.law.fsu.edu/c.php?g=84869&p=547198.

2. THE PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE AND SOVEREIGNTY LANDS -www.jstor.org/stable/42842545.

3. The Public Trust Doctrine: Historic Protection for Florida's Navigable Waters-www.floridabar.org/divcom/jn/jnjournal01.nsf/Author/8D98D298C0060C0785256B110050FFB7.


Central Florida's groundwater and aquifers are becoming extinct by watershed destruction via phosphate strip mining operations. Florida's natural watersheds, known to the Florida phosphate mining industry as phosphate overburden, are being destroyed for the beginnings of a phosphate strip mine. Where is the balance between Florida politics, industry, and the Public?

Phosphate Rock

An aquifer is contained in the sub-surface encased in a body of saturated rock which also contain caverns and watersheds.

In this case the rock is limestone based, through which water can easily be contained and also move as though it is in a sub-surface river.

Aquifers must be both permeable and porous and include such rock types as sandstone, conglomerate, fractured limestone and unconsolidated sand and gravel. This type of earthen material contains enough drinking water for millions of Florida's citizens year after year.

Central Florida is made of just such a rock landscape and truley does contain everyone's fresh water resources.

However, phosphate officials are "permitted" by the state of Florida to remove everything mentioned above "containing" everyone's freshwater resources in very large tracts of land, measured in square miles, to reach the valuable phosphate rock they seek.