This article appeared in the Gainesville Sun on Sunday, March 21, 2021. You can see it at this link.
The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board Online on March 18, 2021.
Florida should charge fee on water bottling
Florida shouldn’t be giving away groundwater to profit water-bottling companies without getting money back to restore the natural springs being affected.
Proposals to charge a fee to water bottlers would help keep the cost of spring restoration projects from falling on the backs of other Florida taxpayers.
Certainly the best option would be for the state to just reject damaging permits. The excessive pumping and pollution of groundwater harms Florida’s springs as well as the state’s drinking water supply.
International companies are making huge profits selling that water to Floridians and other customers in plastic bottles. Nestle announced last month that it was selling its North American water brands to two private equity firms for $4.3 billion.
The announcement came in the same week that the Suwannee River Water Management District board approved a permit allowing nearly 1 million gallons of groundwater per day to be withdrawn at Ginnie Springs for Nestle’s water-bottling plant.
Florida taxpayers are left paying for whatever damage is done to the springs and aquifer by excessive pumping. The flow of the Santa Fe River and the springs feeding it — including the springs at Ginnie Springs — has declined by about 200 million gallons from historic levels, according to a recent report from the High Springs-based Florida Springs Institute….
University of Florida law professor emeritus Joe Little, who has been involved in legal challenges to the Nestle permit by environmental groups, has cited state law in arguing that allowing a private company to pump water without paying the state a fair rate does not serve the public interest.
“You’re giving away something that belongs to us,” Little told the Tampa Bay Times for a recent story on the issue.
Little did not recommend a price for the water, but two bills introduced by Democratic state lawmakers this year would set specific fees. Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, has proposed a 12.5 cent excise tax on every gallon pumped for bottling — with the revenue going into a fund that helps pay for replacing septic systems that are causing groundwater pollution across the state.
Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, has proposed a 5 cent per gallon fee on water used for bottling, with the revenue being directed to water management districts. But both bills failed to get support previously in the Legislature, with a Nestle lobbyist arguing that such costs would cause the company to look to other states for water.
The bottling plant at Ginnie Springs provides jobs and tax revenue, but so do the tourists who visit the Santa Fe River and its springs. Water bottlers should be charged a fee that pays to help restore springs so they can continue to be enjoyed by everyone.