Crystal Clear Ginnie Springs – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Zoe Esteban
One of Florida’s largest freshwater springs will soon be tapped for nearly 1 million gallons of water a day after Nestlé Waters North America was granted a permit approval from the Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board earlier this week.
The permit application will allow Nestlé Waters North America, the parent brand of Zephyrhills Water, to expand its water-bottling operations in Gilchrist County.
According to board members of the Suwannee River Water Management District, the vote to approve the permit was taken under protest to keep the possibility of challenging an administrative law judge’s counsel in favor of the permit. Others on the board felt it was not worth spending money on an appeal after the subject matter had been vetted for almost two years.
“If we go back and spend thousands of dollars on appeal on a technicality, I’m not in favor of that,” board Member Larry Thompson said.
The permit was approved on Tuesday but received backlash during the process by opponents who believed the ramp-up in water bottling from Ginnie Springs will only further degrade the state’s natural freshwater sources.
Environmentalists have been contesting the extension of the permit to draw water from North Central Florida’s Ginnie Springs and Santa Fe River and are considering their own legal appeal to the ruling, citing withdrawals from the water system hurts the case of restoring the springs and rivers.
“This is not something that will benefit in any way, shape, or form this county and any other county. Nestle already bottles water in five different springs, to be exact, and they don’t need this water, putting our spring water in bottles that are then going to end up in the rivers and the oceans, in landfills,” said professional mermaid Michelle Colson. “It’s just not a good use for our spring water that, as we all know, is already in danger.”
Nestlé will be paying Seven Springs Water Co. to draw roughly 400 million gallons of water from the Ginnie Springs region, according to projections.
“The fact that a private company with a small permit fee can be granted permission to pump upwards of a million gallons of water constantly is something that every Floridian should be upset by, no matter where you live in the state,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), in an online news conference.
But just as there is opposition to the ruling, Doug Mason, an attorney representing Seven Springs, believes enough research was done over the past few years to deem the pumping safe.
“They found that there wouldn’t be environmental impacts; there was not going to be any issue with the pumpage and reductions in spring flow or the river,” Manson said.
The current extension will allow Nestlé to draw 984,000 gallons a day from the aquifer, and the company plans to add two new production lines over the next five years to expand the production of the plant.
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