Today’s Florida Gold Rush is for Water: And It’s Free for the Taking

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5 mins read
"Ginnie Springs" by Alachua County (CC BY 2.0)

Editor’s Note: Nestlé Waters North America contacted us to say that this piece “painted a largely inaccurate picture of Nestlé Waters North America’s operations in the state of Florida.” They direct readers to Facts About Nestle Waters in Florida for more information.

Seven Springs Water Company, on behalf of Nestlé Waters North America, applied with the Suwannee River Water Management District for a permit to pump water from Ginnie Springs for bottling. Under current Florida state law, Nestlé would pay nothing for the water.

Nestlé is applying to pump 1,152,000 gallons per day. The previous bottling plant owner, Ice River Springs, never extracted more than 270,000 gallons per day from Ginnie Springs, and even under that permit, average flows in Ginnie Springs and in the entire Santa Fe River are down by 30 to 40 percent. This river system already is subject to a recovery plan. Salt water intrusion can spoil Florida’s coastal aquifers if there is too much pumping, sea level rise only compounds this risk.

This is a state-wide problem. Water management districts have permitted nearly five billion gallons of groundwater withdrawals per day from the Floridan Aquifer. That water belongs to the people of Florida not individual land owners.

The simple truth is that every gallon of groundwater that is pumped to the land surface and not returned to the aquifer is one less gallon contributing to spring flow. The current best estimate for flow reduction for all of Florida’s 1,000-plus artesian springs is one third.

Dr. Bob Knight, Executive Director of the Florida Springs Institute

Florida’s biggest economic sector is tourism. Florida springs attract over a million visitors each year. Florida’s second biggest economic sector is agriculture which relies on the state’s water supply. Florida is one of the fastest growing states. We need to make sure that there will be water for future generations.

Florida is the Mother Lode of Pure Spring Water: And Corporate Bottlers Know It

Florida’s crystal clear artesian springs are one of its most precious and unique resources. The Floridan Aquifer, one of the most productive in North America, provides Florida and surrounding states with billions of gallons of pure spring water each day.

If a corporation wants to pump water out of a spring or river it must pay a minimal permit processing fee and be approved by the water management district. The permit can be effective for years. The price paid for the water taken from Florida springs is, as noted, nothing. The huge corporate bottlers—Nestlé, Coca Cola, French-based Danone and DS Waters of America all have major operations in Florida. These huge bottlers pump free water up, bottle it and, ironically, sell much of it back to the Florida residents who once owned it.

The State Legislature Is Waking Up to the Boondoggle and We Should Get Involved

Florida HB 147, currently in committee, requires the State Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a comprehensive and quantitative needs-based overview of state’s water resources and submit that report to the Governor and Legislature. A similar bill was proposed in last year’s legislature but it wasn’t passed.

The big corporate bottlers are lobbying hard against this measure. The last thing they want to see is the state getting a handle on the wholesale draining of its aquifer. Huge permit applications like Nestlé’s will ramp up as the bottlers attempt to lock up as much of the gravy train as they can before the state puts the brakes on.

Everyone in Florida should contact their state legislators and state senators to do the following:

  • Back HB 147 to begin an assessment of Florida’s precious water resources. If you contact a senator, ask them to introduce a companion measure in the Senate.
  • Include in the legislation a MORATORIUM on all new permits by corporate bottlers until the environmental assessment process envisioned by the legislation can be completed.
  • Include in the legislation a per gallon assessment on water exporters to fund the cost of restoring and preserving Florida’s precious network of artesian springs and rivers.

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Scott is a recovering banker. He spent forty years working in mortgage finance for FNMA, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Prudential Securities and his own company Rockhall Funding Corp. He and his wife Ellen are now happily retired and living in St. Petersburg where they spend a lot of time working through Indivisible Fl-13 and their amazing church, UMC Allendale

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