FL lawmakers join fight to protect ‘fragile’ springs from water extraction

Chief Science Office Tom Frazer says water-quality bills advancing in the Legislature are the best in years. Clean-water groups say, that's not saying much and more is necessary to reverse Florida's water crisis. Photo: Ginnie Springs, by Florida Springs Council

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, state Sen. Janet Cruz, and 148,000 other people are fighting to prevent a Nestlé water supplier from being permitted to pump up to 1.152 million gallons of water per day from Ginnie Springs in north Florida. The supplier, Seven Springs Water Co., pays the state nothing for the water it pumps from the spring, other than a $115 application fee.

Nestlé already bottles water from Ginnie Springs (in Gilchrist County), where it wants to expand, and from four other springs in Florida: Crystal Springs (Pasco County), Cypress Springs (Washington County), Blue Springs (Madison County) and White Springs (Hamilton County).

On Monday, Eskamani wrote to the Suwannee River Water Management District asking regulators to deny the permit.

“Before we even consider allowing more pumping, we should work with the legislative and executive branches to craft and implement environmentally conscious policies to save our springs and waterways for future generations to come,” Eskamani wrote to the water district’s board of directors.

“Ginnie Springs, located in the Santa Fe River, has already been deemed a fragile environment. In fact, 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,” Eskamani wrote.

Also Monday, Cruz filed legislation to impose a surcharge of 5 cents per gallon of water extracted from all Florida springs. The revenue would go to the Florida Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund.

“We cannot stand idly by while bottled water companies make substantial profits off this public resource without paying their fair share or doing much of anything to protect Florida’s springs and drinking water for future generations,” said Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, in a press release.

“If these companies want to pump Florida’s aquifer and take water that belongs to Floridians, they should contribute to the Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund and address the environmental consequences of their business practices.”

A citizens petition on change.org opposing the permit has received 148,000 signatures so far.

Nestlé Waters North America insists it has long been a responsible bottler of water in Florida, employing 800 people and generating $58 million in payroll and other benefits.

The company website states that Nestlé Waters N.A. bottles Florida water for three brands: Zephyrhills Brand Natural Spring Water, Deer Park Brand Natural Spring Water and Nestlé Pure Life.

Nestlé Waters purchased the Ice River Springs bottling facility in High Springs in December 2018 and plans to significantly expand its operation by the end of the year, its website says. It buys spring water pumped by Seven Springs Water Co.

The Florida Springs Council opposes this permit and all consumptive water permits on the ground that Florida does not adequately protect springs. It is fighting with the state in administrative hearings demanding better programs and more funding.

“It is simply not in the public interest to continue giving away billions of gallons of water each day to massive out-of-state or international commercial operators for the benefit of their shareholders, while forcing Florida taxpayers to subsidize their operations and pay to repair the damage,” the Springs Council states.

“The Florida Springs Council opposes the issuance of any new or renewal consumptive water use permits, including Seven Springs, in areas already impacted by over-pumping until these serious flaws in how we permit and fund water use are addressed.”

Note: This story has been updated to include mention of Sen. Cruz’s legislation.