Nestlé Waters North America has requested a permit allowing it to pump up to 1.152 million gallons of water a day from the springs for bottling. Nestlé pays nothing for the water.
A request by the Nestlé food company for a new permit to withdraw water from Ginnie Springs in Gilchrist County has led to a raft of questions from the Suwannee River Water Management District and opposition from environmentalists.
Nestlé Waters North America has requested a permit allowing it to pump a maximum of 1.152 million gallons of water a day from the springs for bottling. Nestlé pays nothing for the water.
Permits have already been approved by the Gilchrist County Commission to expand the bottling facility, which is a short distance from Ginnie Springs off County Road 340.
Seven Springs Water Co. is the local water processor applying for the permit. Vice President Riza Klemens said the company does not discuss permit applications while the process is underway.
The Ginnie Springs plant has operated since 1998. Nestlé Waters bought it in January and owns other water bottling plants in Florida.
“We are evolving our operations to better support the future needs of our business and position the company for long-term success,” said Alex Gregorian, a Nestlé Waters executive vice president, in a written statement at the time of the purchase. “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. We look forward to being a part of the High Springs community.”
River advocates are concerned about the proposal. They say the Santa Fe River is losing water and that allowing that much water a day to be pumped out of the spring, which flows into the Santa Fe, is unwise.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of Our Santa Fe River said every drop of water in the Ginnie Springs is valuable to maintain the river’s health.
“Our Santa Fe River is very concerned about bottling any drops of water out of the Santa Fe basin,” Malwitz-Jipson said. “What is their need, and how can they justify extracting that amount of water when it’s never been done before?”
Those are some of the questions SRWMD wants answered. In a July 12 document addressed to Klemans the district requested information on four issues.
One, the district wants a state-required market analysis and that justifies the need for 1.152 million gallons a day. It has been allowed to withdraw that much under the current permit, but the highest reported water use at the plant during the past four years was 0.2659 million gallons a day.
Two, Nestlé Waters must provide a water budget for the facility that shows potable water use, fire suppression and other needs.
Three, an evaluation of the impact on wetlands of the proposed withdrawal must be shown, including potential harm to threatened or endangered species.
Four, the company must show that the withdrawal will not cause a change in the water levels or flows of the spring from the normal rate and range of function.
The plant has operated on a 20-year permit since 1999, but the district may issue only a five-year permit to allow more frequent review of the impact of the withdrawal, said district program engineer Stefani Weeks.
An effort is underway to try to recover and maintain steam and spring flows in the lower Santa Fe river basin. That includes the setting of minimum flows and water levels needed to ensure the health of the systems.
“There are conditions for issuance and they have to meet all of those conditions,” Weeks said. “The Santa Fe River has a recovery strategy, which has regulatory components on top of the conditions. So we evaluate the permit for the specific criteria and on the rule associated with the recovery.”
Spring flows have been impacted across the region by increased pumping of the aquifer to handle the booming population, particularly on the Atlantic coast. White Springs, for instance, is largely dry after once being a thriving tourist spot.
If Nestlé Waters meets all of the conditions, a recommendation to approve the permit will be made, Weeks said. The district governing board will vote on whether to grant it, and the board will consider public comment.
Nestlé is one of several companies that draw water from Florida’s springs. They pay fees for the permits, but the water itself is free. Officials contend water is free to everyone in Florida and that the charges from municipal utilities are to offset the cost of pumps and pipes to provide the water.
Proposals from lawmakers have been made in the past to tax bottled water companies by the gallon pumped but none have made it very far. Bottled water companies have generally opposed the measures.
This story originally published to gainesville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.