Floridians push back on Nestlé's plan to bottle our water

Permit request pending with Suwannee River Water Management District

Ginnie Springs is a popular recreation spot and one of the primary water sources of the Santa Fe River.

There's a fight brewing between people trying to protect North Central Florida's Ginnie Springs and a subsidiary of a multinational company that wants to pump more than 1 million gallons of water a day to quench America's thirst for bottled water.

The Seven Springs Water Co., a supplier to Nestlé, is asking the Suwannee River Water Management District for a five-year renewal of a permit allowing it to pump nearly 1.2 million gallons a day from wells near Ginnie Springs and the Santa Fe River, in Gilchrist County, about 25 miles south of Lake City.

"This strategically located facility will enable us to more efficiently serve current and future customers of our popular Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water and Nestlé Pure Life bottled water brands," Nestlé Waters Executive Vice President Alex Gregorian wrote when the company bought Seven Springs Water in January.

How much will the company pay for taking all of this fresh water from Florida?  A total of $115 for a one-time permit fee. That's because the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972 declared spring water, rivers and lakes were the property of Florida but did not set a price on such bodies of water.

Calls are growing for the permit to be denied.

Our Sante Fe River, a nonprofit that works to protect the river and its watershed, is urging the public to speak out against the permit. The group has distributed bumper stickers and yard signs opposing the permit renewal.

"Any withdrawals at this point hurt the case to recover the river," the group's president, Mike Roth, told the Independent Florida Alligator. "It's just basically tampering with nature in a way that's kind of dangerous."

Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who is also a member of the Gainesville Alachua County Water Policy Committee, is also against the permits' approval.

"I would hope that there are ways to prevent them from bottling up the water," Hayes-Santos told the Gainesville Sun. "But with the Republican-controlled state legislature, they have made it very easy for companies to take advantage of our natural resources."

In 2014, The Florida Department of Environmental Protection set water quality restoration goals for the Santa Fe River to bring the river up to state water quality standards to protect human health and aquatic life.

A Change.org petition calling for the district to deny the permit has nearly 33,000 signatures. Residents can also make public comment to the district on the permit request.

"I think it's part of a generalized notion that the springs are completely able to be replenished all the time but if you keep doing this all the time the springs flow will significantly decrease which will degrade the quality of the springs themselves," University of Florida history lecturer Steven Knoll told the Alligator.

In July, the district requested the company provide details on four issues before the permit would be considered:

  • A state-required market analysis on the need for 1.152 million gallons per day. While that was the maximum allowed under the previous 20-year permit, the highest reported water use at the plant over the past four years was 0.27 million gallons a day.
  • A water budget for the facility that shows potable water use, fire suppression and other needs.
  • An evaluation of the impact on wetlands of the proposed withdrawal must be shown, including potential harm to threatened or endangered species.
  • Nestlé Waters must show that the withdrawal will not cause a change in the water levels or flows of the spring from the normal rate.

Nestlé's natural resources manager, George Ring, has claimed that drawing 1.2 million gallons of water per day from the Santa Fe would represent less than .05 percent of the total daily volume, which would not affect the overall water levels.

The Suwannee County Water Management District is expecting to vote on the permit extension sometime between November and January 2020.

About the Author:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.