GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) – Nestlé Waters is looking to expand a permit in hopes of taking more than a million gallons a day from a popular tourist spot in Florida. Outdoors enthusiasts and conservation activists, however, are fighting back.
Ginnie Springs, located in the Santa Fe River, has already been deemed a fragile environment. It’s been labeled as “in recovery” by the Suwannee River Water Management District after decades of bottling companies draining more than 270,000 gallons a day.
Seven Springs Water Co. – a supplier to Nestlé – is now hoping to be grandfathered into a new plan that would allow 1.152 million gallons of water to be taken from the beloved springs and bottled. That’s four times more than the previous permit allowed. That permit was in place for 20 years.
The old plan expired last June. It was protected by the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972, which declared spring water, rivers and lakes the property of Florida but did not name a price on those bodies of water.
Activists say the plan was obtained when, environmentally, conditions were much better.
“The Florida Springs Institute are running at almost 30 percent below what they were running a few decades ago,” said Michael Roth, president of a conservation nonprofit called Our Santa Fe River. “The thing about the permit is that there’s been several bottling companies and none of them have used more than 270,000 gallons a day. It’s affecting everything from vegetation – which is disappearing and leading to many animals dying – to water clarity becoming problematic and less appealing to divers and fishermen.”
“They make their decision according to statute, trying to make the argument that it’s good for the community and it’s in the best interest,” Roth added. “We’re trying to get local communities and visitors to show water management and legislators that this isn’t in the best interest of we have written the office.”
One of the problems, Roth says, is that the Suwanee River Water Management is supposed to be a nine-person board but currently only has six people.
“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has failed to appoint the vacant seats. There are no scientists or environmentalists on that board,” Roth said. “The fact is we’ve been arguing up the line with water management over consumptive use for years.”
After the renewal application was submitted, there were two additional requests for additional information. Once the Suwanee Water Management Board has the information they need, they’ll issue a recommendation.
“An argument will be made that it will bring in jobs since they do hire around 50 to 75 people,” Roth said. “But without the support from tourism, many more jobs will be lost.”
A Change.org petition calling for the district to deny the permit had more than 48,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. Advocates are urging the public to also make public comments on the district’s permit request page.
Florida’s Springs Region encompasses about 65 percent of the state’s land and water area, including an estimated 2018 resident population of 11.6 million, as well as an even larger nonresident tourist population.
A report from the University of Florida says that Ginnie Springs sees approximately 190,000 visitors annually, earning $17,313,000 in spending from those visitors.
Approximately 70 percent of those visitors are from outside the local area.
Nestlé is adamant that taking more than 1 million gallons of water each is only .05 percent of the total daily volume when factoring other bottling companies.
“We are currently buying less water than the bottled water companies that previously owned the High Springs factory,” the company said in a statement. “However, we anticipate that over time, the amount of water we buy from Seven Springs will increase, as consumer demand for healthy beverages increases.”