Nestle taking water from the aquifer for private profit isn’t in the public interest | Commentary
By Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum
Orlando Sentinel |
Aug 14, 2019 | 6:00 AM
Néstle’s proposed water bottling plant near High Springs, which draws water from the Ginnie Springs area, depends on a water permit owned by Seven Springs Water, which has just applied for a five-year renewal from the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Néstle also has plans for increased production, as indicated by infrastructure enlargements. A look at the permitting process shows that they do not meet the permit requirements and should be denied the permit.
The Santa Fe River is in decline, and more water withdrawals of water will harm the river and springs.
It is impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water, up to .09% of the combined Ginnie Springs complex flow, and not have an impact. If you take any amount or water out of a glass of water, you will have less.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit rules say there must be “reasonable-beneficial use” which it defines as: “…the use of water in such quantity as is necessary for economic and efficient utilization for a purpose and in a manner which is both reasonable and consistent with the public interest.”
Interestingly, public interest is not defined in Florida law, but a legal dictionary says it’s anything affecting the rights, health, or finances of the public at large. Public interest is a common concern among citizens in the management and affairs of local, state and national government. It does not mean mere curiosity but is a broad term that refers to the body politic and the public well-being.
Note this says public “at large.” It does not say one corporation. Depleting the public’s spring waters is not in the public interest and will further damage the springs.
The public does not need Néstle’s product. They can obtain drinking water from many sources, and tap water may be healthier since the water from Ginnie contains about three times the nitrate content recommended as safe by the DEP. The DEP established a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the lower Santa Fe River in 2013, supposedly to reduce nitrates. But six years later, the content is higher than it was in 2013.
Rather than bottled water, the public has more need for the recreational benefits from the rivers and springs. Neither Ginnie Springs Outdoors, Seven Springs Water nor Néstle owns the spring or the water — the public does.
Néstle’s application soundly fails the three-prong test required by Florida statutes (“reasonable and beneficial”, “in the public interest”, “no adverse impacts to existing users”), but also should be denied for many other reasons.
The Santa Fe River is deemed “in recovery” by DEP and must be restored. One reason is because over-pumping has reduced the flow some 30% from former times. Withdrawing more water exacerbates the problem and contradicts the DEP’s goal of restoration.
The Santa Fe River is in a designated “Water Resource Caution Area,” so named because the aquifer is unable to provide sufficient amounts of water to meet the future requirements outlined by the DEP. In reality, the aquifer cannot adequately supply today’s demands. The river and springs continually decline in flow from over-pumping.
The Santa Fe is in a state priority focus area, which requires more protection than normal to that area. Ginnie is also deemed an Outstanding Florida Spring, which puts the onus of special protection on those responsible to care for water. This, in itself, negates the permit possibility.
An additional reason to deny this permit is because the Santa Fe River and its associated spring habitats are home to 11 native turtle species and four non-native species. Few places on Earth have as many turtle species living together. In fact, approximately 25% of all North American freshwater turtle species inhabit this small river system.
The United States has the second highest rate of turtle species diversity in the world, and in the U.S. this concentration is on Suwannee/Santa Fe/Ichetucknee rivers. Threats to this diversity iséé habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows.
Finally, we have the ethical issue of our state putting large sums of money into conservation practices and recharge projects on the Santa Fe River and then, at the same time, counteracting this action by fomenting the free extraction of a publicly owned natural resource by a for-profit company. Essentially, taxpayers are funding replenishment of the aquifer and then allowing Néstle to take it out and sell it back to us.
There must be a stopping point somewhere. We have reached it.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum are board members for Our Santa Fe River, Inc.
Read the original article here in the Orlando Sentinel.