Ginnie Springs and Seven Springs Water Company: Profit ahead of the public good?

The answer to Mr. Pittman’s question in the title below is that “indeed it  appears so.”  Seven Springs Water Company  wants to sell water out of a spring and river system that is already damaged and deemed by the State of Florida to be below standards.This water system serves as source of recreation and businesses for the people, and it does not belong to Seven Springs to damage at their will or discretion.

Pumping more water out of Ginnie will negatively impact the spring and river and no one has the right to do that.  They should be stopped.  Our water resources in Florida should not be sold for profit by a private company who does not own this water.

Our thanks go to John Moran for permission to use his photo and to Craig Pittman and Florida Phoenix for publishing this message about what Seven Springs wants to do to our water.

Read the entire article here on Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.

[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


 Ginnie Springs and Seven Springs Water Company: Profit ahead of the public good?

By
Craig Pittman

 

GinnieSpringsMoran In:  Ginnie Springs and Seven Springs Water Company: Profit ahead of the public good? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Ginnie Springs, 2017. Credit: John Moran.

Bob Knight was paddling the Santa Fe River last month when he saw the crowd.

In spite of warnings from medical experts, dozens of people had crowded into Ginnie Springs to splash around and laugh and have a good time. Nobody wore a mask – it would have gotten soggy.

Florida has more first-magnitude springs than any place on Earth – first magnitude referring to the amount of water gushing up from underground. Many of the biggest ones, like Wakulla and Silver Springs, are state parks. Ginnie Springs, on the south side of the Santa Fe, is privately owned.

DeSantis 04012020 In:  Ginnie Springs and Seven Springs Water Company: Profit ahead of the public good? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces a statewide stay-at-home order during a news conference in his Capitol office on April 1, 2020. Screenshot image.

The state parks all shut down March 23, but Ginnie Springs’ owners kept its gates open, allowing the party to go on. They waited until Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order in early April before they closed the attraction.

“It’s always the party spring, where people have a lot of beer,” said Knight, who heads up the Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville. [Ed. note–FSI is in High Springs]

To Knight, packing the spring with people in March is emblematic of a larger problem at Ginnie Springs. The owners, he contends, put profit ahead of the public good.

For the past 26 years, the owners of Ginnie Springs, a corporation called Seven Springs Water Co., has had a permit from the Suwannee River Water Management District to withdraw more than 1.15 million gallons of water to sell to water bottling companies.

But as it sold water to AquaPenn, then Coca-Cola, then Ice River, the amount Seven Springs pulled out of the ground was far less than what was permitted. The most it ever used was 387,400 gallons a day, and that was back in 2006.

FlGinnieSpring In:  Ginnie Springs and Seven Springs Water Company: Profit ahead of the public good? | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Ginnie Springs. Credit: H. Means, State of Florida

Now Seven Springs is seeking to renew that water permit so it can sell the water to Nestlé. And now the company is saying it’s going to use all 1.15 million gallons a day.

The Suwannee River staff reviewed the application, then recommended last month that the water district’s governing board say no to allowing what was, in practice if not on paper, a significant increase. The staff said the company had not provided them with enough information to show that the increased pumping was in the public interest and that their water plant could handle the boost.

Rather than wait for the governing board to vote, Seven Springs filed a petition to the state Division of Administrative Hearings to overturn the staff recommendation.

That legal move is not unusual, according to Florida water law expert Edward de la Parte. The law is set up so that if anyone objects to the staff’s recommendation, the objection can be dealt with prior to a vote.

What is unusual, he said, is for the staff of a water district to recommend denying a renewal for an existing water permit. In his 40 years of practicing water law in Florida, he could think of no more than five times that that had occurred.

“It typically doesn’t happen,” he said. One prominent example: During the Tampa Bay water wars, the Southwest Florida Water Management District became so concerned about the damage that overpumping was doing to lakes and wetlands that its staff recommended denying permits for several municipal wellfields. Everyone sued, of course.

Even though the water district could show major environmental damage, the administrative judge ruled against the denial, de la Parte said. Although the burden of proof is on the applicant to show the staff is wrong, he said, a judge is generally going to ask: If this is wrong now, why did you go along with it for more than two decades?

Both Knight and other water-law attorneys agreed with de la Parte, and more than one suggested this legal maneuver would allow the water district board to duck taking a position on a controversial permit by letting a judge make the decision. Knight called it “an end run.”

“The denial is rare and this one is weak to begin with,” said John Thomas, who frequently represents environmental groups in water cases.

The rule that requires water withdrawals to be “in the public interest” should be sufficient grounds for denial, he said, but Florida’s five water districts “have never given it significant weight.” It’s difficult to say for sure that this is a setup, he said, but added, “I doubt they (the district) expect to win on the merits.”

Seven Springs and its attorney, Douglas Manson of Tampa, did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls seeking comment on their legal challenge, which is set for a hearing in July. But a spokeswoman for the water district, Katelyn Potter, called such allegations “unfounded.”

“The staff recommended denial based on an incomplete application, and we have the proof to show,” she said.

Records she provided underline de la Parte’s point, however: Since it opened its doors in 1973, the Suwannee River water board has voted to deny water use permit applications only eight times, and only one of those was, like the Seven Springs case, a request for a renewal.

Lisa Garcia, a spokeswoman for Nestlé Waters, was quick to point out that the legal wrangle is Seven Springs’ fight and not theirs. But she added, “As part of the permitting process, a series of tests, modeling and analyses were conducted, and experts in the fields of hydrogeology and wetland biology found that the renewal of the existing permitted water withdrawals will not have an adverse impact upon Ginnie Springs or the surrounding wetlands….”

In the grand scheme of things, Knight said, the amount of water Seven Springs wants isn’t enough by itself to reverse all the springs along the Santa Fe.

But after you add in all the residential and commercial water use and the farmers drenching their fields with wasteful center-pivot sprinklers, he said, the spring water they’re going to sell to Nestlé “may be the feather that breaks the camel’s back.”

 

Craig Pittman
Craig Pittman

Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. In 30 years at the Tampa Bay Times, he won numerous state and national awards for his environmental reporting. He is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, which won a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards. His latest, published in January, is Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther. The Florida Heritage Book Festival recently named him a Florida Literary Legend. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and children.

5 Comments

  1. Our State is literally at the tipping point where water, as it relates to the health of our ecosystem, is concerned. Renewing this permit would be dereliction of Water Mgmt’s duty to protect this vital resource. Do not renew!

  2. No!!!! Too much profit is already being made by big corporations at the expense of our natural resources. Do not renew!

  3. Pumping cannot help already stressed system. Do not renew. Give our springs a break from over pumping our springs to sell our water that we Floridians get no profit from. The only profit we need is our own drinking water being preserved and protected. According to my understanding Low flow from over pumping = heavy algae and low plant life keeping our springs healthy. Say no to pumping!

Back to top
Skip to content