|What happened during this hearing?
The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD or District) defended a staff recommendation to deny renewal of the consumptive use permit that would allow Seven Springs to withdraw more than one million gallons of water per day near the Santa Fe River.The purpose of the water use permit is to provide Nestle with water for bottling at their High Springs and Madison plants. The hearing focused on three primary issues related to permit requirements for beverage processing facilities within the SRWMD:
- Does Nestle have the ability to bottle the requested amount of water?
- Does Nestle’s acknowledgment that it plans to truck water from its High Springs plant to its Madison plant require a new permit application evaluation?
- At what point does the actual water use occur? (When the water is pumped out of the ground, when it is piped to another location, or when it is ultimately bottled?)
The three-day Hearing was full of legal maneuvering on both sides as attorneys for Seven Springs attempted to narrow the issues that could be raised, while the District’s attorney argued that issues related to control of the bottling facility should be considered.
On the final day of the Hearing, ALJ Chisenhall allowed public comments. Representatives of Our Santa Fe River, which had been forced out of the case by Seven Springs, gave strong comments supporting the District’s decision to recommend denial of the permit.
What happens next?
A ruling by the ALJ on the permit is expected within the next sixty to ninety days, at which point the permit will go to the SRWMD Governing Board for final consideration. Based on the arguments raised during the Hearing, it appears that both sides are preparing to appeal the ALJ’s ruling.
The bigger battle over Santa Fe River pumping:
We are gearing up for a battle to protect the Santa Fe River and springs over an even greater threat.
Flows in the Santa Fe River are already down 30% over the last ten years when compared to the historic average. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now attempting to revise the Santa Fe & Ichetucknee Rivers Minimum Flow and River (MFL) rule intended to protect the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee from harmful water withdrawals, like that by Seven Springs/Nestle. The revised rule would weaken and possibly remove protections for the Rivers that are in place today – impacting not just one, but all water use permit applications in the area.
Analyses by Dr. Bob Knight, Dr. Sam Upchurch, and the peer reviewers hired by the Suwanee River Water Management District all found major problems with the draft Santa Fe River MFL rule. The lead peer reviewer for the District has even called for the draft MFL to be redone because it may not protect the springs and rivers.
If you’re following the Nestle permit issue, you may already know that the Santa Fe River is currently considered “in recovery” – the lowest possible classification for any river or spring – meaning that significant harm is already occurring because of over-pumping. Rather than protecting the springs and river by requiring greater conservation or denying new water use permits, the State is lowering the minimum accepted flow to allow for more pumping and more degradation.