Defining “public interest” has long been a bump in the road for those attempting to interpret Florida water law.
Unfortunately, what seems simple logic written in simple English as to whom is served by the taking away of something in order for someone else to acquire money, may turn out to be not so.
State agencies and honorable judges usually seem geared toward money and businesses, and not restoring springs.
Read the original article here at this link to the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
With water resources barely covering our agricultural needs, along comes a behemoth international corporation, Nestlé Waters North America, asking to take over a million gallons a day so that they can increase their water-bottling profits.
Fortunately, Chapter 373 of the Florida Statutes is there to protect us. Unfortunately, there are different interpretations of the law.
Section 373.219 of the statute provides that the Department of Environmental Protection or the governing board of a water management district “may require such permits for consumptive use of water and may impose such reasonable conditions as are necessary to assure that such use is consistent with the overall objectives of the district or department and is not harmful to the water resources of the area.”
What are the overall objectives of the district? A St. Johns Water Management District presentation suggests that it is to, “Identify economically feasible sources of water … to meet water supply needs through the planning period without causing unacceptable impacts.”
Would a cone of depression causing local wells to go dry be considered an “unacceptable impact”? Is the district sure that pumping four times what has been pumped previously will not result in such impacts?
The statute states that the Legislature “recognizes the significant value of water conservation in the protection and efficient use of water resources.” It then specifies a “three prong test”:
1) Water use must be “reasonable — beneficial.” This speaks to its use in such quantity as is necessary for economic, efficient utilization for a purpose and in a manner that is both reasonable and consistent with the public interest. Is selling otherwise publicly available water for corporate profit consistent with the public interest?
2) It must not interfere with existing legal users, such as domestic wells; we are all existing users. It cannot decrease the withdrawal capability of any facility of a legal use of water that was existing at the time of the application such that the existing user experiences economic, health or other type of hardship. Do dry wells constitute a hardship?
3) It must be consistent with the public interest. The Applicant’s Handbook for the St. Johns district poses the question of whether “an existing or proposed use is beneficial or detrimental to the overall collective well-being of the people or to the water resource in the area, the District, and the state.” How much do healthy springs and the attainment of at least minimum flow levels contribute to our collective well-being?
Another section in the statutes states that if there are two or more competing applications, the district shall approve the application that most serves the public interest. What if doing nothing best serves the public interest?
It’s easy to find evidence of problems caused by Nestlé, such as a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of using slave labor in Thailand, reported deforestation of the Ivory Coast by its cocoa suppliers, charges of price fixing in Canada and the aggressive promotion of formula over breast milk in third-world countries.
But it is the reclassification of water as a need rather than a right that relates more directly to our concerns here. Former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has stated that “water is a human right. This human right is the five liters (1.3 gallons) of water we need for our daily hydration and the 25 liters (6.6 gallons) we need for minimum hygiene … Where I have an issue is that the 98.5% of the water we are using, which is for everything else, is not a human right and because we treat it as one, we are using it in an irresponsible manner …”
So the responsible manner would be to privatize and sell it? Was it responsible to pump 210 million gallons a year near Flint, Michigan, where residents don’t even have access to Brabeck-Letmathe’s gracious allocation?
There are almost $38 million in springs projects and $12 million in river projects proposed for the next year — $50 million of taxpayer money proposed for increasing the health and vitality of our rivers and streams, and along comes Nestlé to just help itself to almost a half-billion gallons of our precious resource each year.
How does it serve the public interest for Nestlé to put water in plastic and sell it back to us? We can only hope that the Suwannee River Water Management District possesses the commitment to duty necessary to turn down a water-withdrawal application by Seven Springs to provide water for Nestlé’s bottling plant near High Springs.
Michael Roth is president of Our Santa Fe River Inc.