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Sink or swim for Florida’s water law

Published: October 2 2008

Christine Klein

Associate dean for faculty development
Fredric G. Levin College of Law

As a child, Christine Klein was thrown into a swimming pool before she was tall enough to touch bottom. Her early sink-or-swim lessons set the stage for a lifelong interest in water.

“I’ve always been involved in aquatic sports, including being on the varsity swim team in college and later as a whitewater kayaker,” said Klein, associate dean for faculty development and professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “In my professional life, I’ve combined my personal passion for water and the outdoors.”

First diving into water rights litigation as a young lawyer in the Colorado attorney general’s office, Klein is now a nationally known expert in water law, with both courtroom and academic expertise encompassing different systems of water law.

According to Klein, Florida is one of the few states with a farsighted water code, known as The Water Resources Act of 1972.

“Unlike many states, Florida’s law is not an unworkable patchwork of legislative compromises enacted over the years,” said Klein. “Instead, it is for the most part a cohesive whole with some very forward-looking provisions.”

Nonetheless, utilities in heavily populated areas of the state are running short of available groundwater and have begun to consider using the seemingly plentiful, clean water of less-developed neighbors. For example, utilities in Central Florida have looked northward to the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers, proposing to divert more than 200 million gallons per day at an estimated cost of $800 million to $1.2 billion.

“Before we consider these expensive infrastructure projects, we should establish a state policy as to whether or not we want to encourage or discourage these types of water transfers, and under what conditions,” Klein said. “I like the analogy of a family budget. You know how much money comes in and you know how much money goes out and you balance it.”

Klein and her colleagues at UF have some suggestions on how to balance Florida’s water budget and other issues affecting the state’s long-term water sustainability. Their recently released white paper outlines five challenges to Florida’s water future and offers recommendations to improve the state’s law.

“Florida’s water law has served us well for the past 30 years,” Klein said. “Now, we simply need to build on those strengths as we meet the challenges of the future.”

Click here to download “Reforming the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972: Beyond the First 35 Years,” authored by UF law professors Christine Klein, Mary Jane Angelo and Richard Hamann.

Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography