Protesters young and old pumped large signs reading “SOS: Save our Springs” and “Water For life, not Profit” into the air as they marched in a single-file line on the sidewalk.

Their chants, ‘Whose water? Our water,’ and, ‘On three, no Nestlé,’ echoed down the streets of High Springs, hoping to get the local government to pay attention.

Water advocates, High Springs residents and students gathered Friday night to protest a permit that would allow Nestlé Waters North America to bottle 1.152 million gallons of water from Ginnie Springs a day.

More than 100 protesters gathered in the field between Main Street and the Brewery of High Springs to listen to five speakers including Alachua County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler, Isaac Augspurg, Emma Turner and Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson. The event was organized by local environmental groups Our Santa Fe River, Climate Action Gator and Sierra Club Suwanee. 

Malwitz-Jipson, an event organizer, said she hopes this protest will get the attention of the High Springs and Fort White local governments and the Suwannee River Water Management District.

She said it was encouraging to see so many people from all areas and ages uniting under one cause. More than twice the number of people she expected came out.  

“I think it was an extremely successful citizen empowering event,” Malwitz-Jipson said. “I felt encouraged and hopeful that more people will get involved with the water permitting process in Florida.”

Following the protest, Malwitz-Jipson said she hopes citizens will write in the Suwannee River Water Management District permit portal and show up to government meetings regarding this issue. 

Commissioner Wheeler said she came to the protest because this is an issue she cares deeply about. Before being elected, she spent eight years working with a variety of water groups in Florida and has advocated for the conservation of rivers, springs and coastal waters.

Because she represents District 2, which includes High Springs, Wheeler said it was especially important for her to be there. 

“It’s so exciting to be here,” Wheeler told the crowd. “We have to make sure we are protecting this water because once it’s gone, there is no replacing it.”

Mackenzie Griffin, a 20-year-old UF Chemistry sophomore and Climate Action Gator member, came to the protest because she feels it is up to the next generation to fight for the environment. 

“I just want my planet to be clean for future generations,” Griffin said. “It’s all connected, we have to prepare for the future.”

Fort White resident Lucy Anstey attended the protest because she said living on the river made her understand the importance of keeping water levels high and maintaining the health of the water.

In her more than 20 years of living here, Anstey said she has seen many other bottling companies come in to take the water.

“Without the river, I have no place to live,” Anstey said. “What gives big corporations the right to come in and take our water? We can’t accept this.”