OSFR President Mike Roth and Florida Springs Institute Executive Director Dr. Robert Knight are both quoted in the New York Times article below. They, along with OSFR board member Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, were recently interviewed by reporters at Rum 138.
Read the original article here in the New York Times.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Correction: Sept. 20, 2019An earlier version of this article misidentified the holder of a permit to draw water from Ginnie Springs. It is a company called Seven Springs, which passes on the water to Nestlé, not Nestlé itself. It also misstated the cost to Nestlé for using the water. Nestlé purchases the water from Seven Springs; it does not extract the water without charge.
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 16, 2019, Section A, Page 23 of the New York edition with the headline: Bottled Water Is Sucking Florida Dry.Note: OSFR has edited portions of this excerpt (indicated by brackets) to reflect the changes described above.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world, but they are being devastated by increasing pollution and drastic declines in water flow. Some springs have dried up from overextraction; others have shown signs of saltwater intrusion and harmful algae blooms.
At least 60 springs discharge from the Floridan aquifer into the Santa Fe River, which runs 75 miles through north-central Florida. This aquifer is the primary source of drinking water in the state. The state and local governments have continued to issue water bottling extraction permits that prevent the aquifer from recharging.
The answer to this problem is simple: No more extraction permits should be granted, and existing permits should be reduced with the goal of eliminating bottled water production entirely in Florida. At the very least, corporations should be taxed for the water they now extract free of charge. That revenue can be used to pay for water infrastructure projects.
In the next few months, [Seven Springs Water Co.] is set to renew its permit at Ginnie Springs, one of the most popular recreational attractions along the Santa Fe River. The permit allows [them] to take one million gallons per day at no cost, with just a one-time $115 application fee.
“When the bottling companies come in, they’re taking the water away and we get no benefit,” said Michael Roth, president of Our Santa Fe River, an environmental nonprofit.
While other large water bottling companies purchase water directly from municipal water sources in Florida, Nestlé, the largest bottled water company in the world with 48 brands in its portfolio, [sometimes, but not the case at Ginnine Springs] takes water directly from the source. Nestlé’s free water extraction has incited community pushback in San Bernardino, Calif., where the company gets water for its Arrowhead brand from a national forest struggling with significant drought, and in Osceola County, Mich., where residents are fighting against the company in court to prevent surges in water extraction from local resources.
The Florida Springs Institute in August reported that groundwater extractions need to be reduced by 50 percent or more in North Florida to restore average spring flows to 95 percent of their previous levels. From 1950 to 2010, average spring flows in Florida declined by 32 percent as groundwater use increased by 400 percent.
“There is no more water to give out from the Santa Fe River,” said Robert Knight, an environmental scientist and the executive director of the Florida Springs Institute. “The aquifer levels are coming down about an inch per year on average. Every year the aquifer level drops there is less pressure and flow at the springs.”
Dr. Knight noted that average flow in the Santa Fe River has declined 30 percent to 40 percent. The Florida Springs Institute rates Ginnie Springs’s ecological health a D-plus.
He cited another Nestlé water bottling operation in Florida, at Madison Blue Spring, where declining spring flows worsen periodic backflows into the springs from the Withlacoochee River it feeds into, contaminating the aquifer. Untreated wastewater discharged into the river upstream in Georgia has made Madison Blue Springs frequently unsuitable for water bottling. The water at Ginnie Springs suffers from nitrate pollution from wastewater, pesticide and fertilizer runoff, which can cause algal blooms and hurt human health.
Nestlé has incensed other communities in the United States. In Michigan, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the grass-roots nonprofit organization Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation filed an appeal of a decision to allow Nestlé to increase water pumping from 250 gallons per minute to to 400 gallons per minute from a spring aquifer in Osceola County.
In April 2018, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved Nestlé’s application to increase water extraction to 400 gallons per minute. Nestlé pays a $200 annual administrative fee to extract millions of gallons of water from Michigan every year. Residents of Flint have noted that while Nestlé pays practically nothing for water, they are faced with high bills for poisoned water and have to rely on purchased bottled water.
Osceola Township, the site of Nestlé’s well, is also appealing a ruling that allows Nestlé to build a booster pump and extract more water.
“This is a poor, rural township. Nestlé goes to towns like these with economic promises of development of jobs, and gives nothing back,” said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “Other bottled water companies tend to purchase their water from municipal water systems. They’re not drawing it from springs that are part of the public commons….”
For residents near Ginnie Springs, Fla., where Nestlé is set to expand its bottled water operation, the town frequently issues boil-water advisories and Florida taxpayers spend millions of dollars annually on aquifer recharge programs. Florida should prioritize providing safe drinking water for its residents, rather than bottling that water to resell elsewhere.
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