Southwest Florida Water Management District v. Charlotte County

774 So. 2d 903 (2001)

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Southwest Florida Water Management District v. Charlotte County

Florida District Court of Appeal
774 So. 2d 903 (2001)

  • Written by Robert Cane, JD

Facts

The State of Florida initially governed its water rights under Florida common law pursuant to the reasonable-use rule. In 1972, the Florida legislature enacted the Florida Water Resources Act (water-resources act). The water-resources act created a permitting system for water rights. The water-resources act provided no vested water rights to prior water users with established uses prior to 1972. The water-resources act provided for a three-prong test for applications for water-use permits. The test required the applicant to establish that the proposed use of water (1) was reasonable-beneficial, (2) would not interfere with existing water uses, and (3) was consistent with the public interest. Pursuant to state law, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (the water district) promulgated rules to administer the water-resources act and evaluate permit applications. The water district promulgated a rule (14-critera rule) that provided 14 mandatory criteria for water-use permit applicants to meet for approval of a permit. Several parties, including Charlotte County and Pinellas County (plaintiffs) brought administrative challenges to the water district’s rules. An administrative-law judge (ALJ) consolidated several challenges and issued a 652-page order regarding water-district rules, upholding some rules and invalidating others. Specifically, the ALJ found that the water district’s requirement that an applicant satisfy each subsection of the 14-criteria rule was invalid but that the 14-criteria rule was a proper implementation of the statutory three-prong test. The ALJ also found that water users with established water rights prior to 1972 were subject to the three-prong test with respect to permit renewals. The water district and others appealed portions of the ALJ’s order invalidating water-district rules, and Pinellas County and others appealed portions of the order upholding water-district rules.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Danahy, J.)

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