A river is like life: once taken, it cannot be brought back.
That is the slogan of the local environmental group, Our Santa Fe River. They group is fighting a permit that would allow Nestlé Waters North America to use 1.152 million gallons from Ginnie Springs per day for bottled water.
With the permit, Nestle may deplete the water supply as citizens pay millions of dollars in taxes to fund projects aimed at replenishing the aquifer, said the nonprofit’s president Mike Roth.
Increased water withdrawals pose a serious environmental risk, Roth said. A “cone of depression,” which causes wells to dry, could develop in the Florida aquifer, the state’s primary source of drinking water. Dry wells would disturb surrounding ecosystems and affect the availability of clean drinking water.
Roth said the organization was formed 12 years ago to protect the aquifer, springs and rivers within the watershed of the Santa Fe River, which includes Ginnie Springs.
The organization aims to fight the approval of this permit by educating the public and giving out lawn signs and bumper stickers, he said.
“Any withdrawals at this point hurt the case to recover the river,” Roth said. “It’s just basically tampering with nature in a way that’s kind of dangerous.”
Private company Seven Springs Water Co. had a 20-year permit that allowed them to pump a maximum of 1.2 million gallons a day, but it expired in June 2019.
The company is applying for a 5-year renewal of the existing permit which has to be approved by the Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida’s state water agency. The district will vote on the renewal sometime between November and January 2020, Roth said.
Seven Springs will have to pay a one-time $115 fee for the permit, though neither company will pay for the water itself due to the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972. The act determined spring water, rivers and lakes were the property of Florida but did not set a price on these bodies of water.
Nestle has been bottling water from the springs since its purchase of the High Springs plant from Ice River Springs Marianna LLC in January. While the renewal is under consideration, the old permit is still in effect, Roth said.
A Change.org petition calling for the district to deny the permit has more than 30,000 signatures. Residents can also fill out a public input form to voice their opinions.
In a statement released by Nestle Waters on Aug. 6, the company said it is adhering to all state standards regarding water withdrawals. Seven Springs Water Co. is required to report the total volume of water used monthly to the district, which publishes the reports online.
Drawing 1.2 million gallons of water per day would represent less than .05 percent of the total daily volume at the United States Geological Survey site on the Santa Fe River which would not affect the overall water levels, according to a Nestlé natural resources manager, George Ring.
April Salter, CEO of SalterMitchell PR which represents Nestlé, said its team of natural resource managers is employed to monitor the springs, ensuring their practices are sustainable.
“Spring water is a rapidly renewable resource when managed correctly,” Salter said. “Nestlé Waters North America is committed to the highest level of sustainable spring water management at all of the springs we manage.”
Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he is against the permits’ approval.
As a member of the Gainesville Alachua County Water Policy Committee, he implores the protection of the water supply because of its significance to Florida’s ecosystem.
“I would hope that there are ways to prevent them from bottling up the water,” Hayes-Santos said. “But with the Republican-controlled state legislature, they have made it very easy for companies to take advantage of our natural resources.”
Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Seven Springs Water Co. reports the total water used monthly to the district. The Alligator previously reported differently.
Map of the Santa Fe River