To clarify one statement below, SRWMD never denied the permit. The staff at one point recommend denial, but the Board of Directors tabled the vote, and then Seven Springs began a legal challenge before any more action from the board. Tuesday’s vote was the first yea or nay vote on granting the permit.
The following is from the Gainesville Sun and may be seen at this link.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Over protest, water board OKs Nestle bottling plan
Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK Wed. Feb. 23, 2021
Nestle Waters essentially got the permission it wants to get more water from the aquifer at Ginnie Springs Tuesday when the Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board approved under protest a judge’s final order.
The decision came after several hours of public comment from about 50 speakers, all but four opposed to the move.
Board member Charles Keith acknowledged the opposition’s concerns but indicated the board had little choice but to accept the order.
“I appreciate the passions involved. I think as an organization our best efforts will be to take a serious look at the rules so this board has more scrutiny in handling situations like this,” Keith said. “When you sit on a board and recognize the legal implications, you feel like your hands are tied.”
Florida Defenders of the Environment and Our Santa Fe River expect to file a lawsuit that will test a novel theory of Florida water law — whether it is legal to transfer water off the property from which it is taken, as happens at the Nestle Ginnie Springs plant. and not pay the state.
“We’re moving forward with it after this vote,” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of Our Santa Fe River.
At issue is a permit renewal for Seven Springs Water Co. at Ginnie Springs.
It has been permitted to pump water since 1998 to an adjacent bottling plant that is now owned by Nestle.
The existing permit was for 1.152 million gallons a day, but historically only about 265,000 gallons a day were pumped.
However, Nestle plans to expand its operation, so the new permit sought by Seven Springs was initially for the 1.152 million gallons.
SRWMD denied the permit.
Seven Springs appealed to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings where a judge issued a recommended order for approval of a 984,000-gallonsper- day permit.
Governing Board attorney Tom Reeves said Tuesday the district was bound to the order but could accept it under protest to allow room for appeal.
Several board members indicate they would not favor any further legal action on the district’s part.
The vote to accept the order was unanimous.
Public comment was overwhelmingly opposed to the permit.
Of the four who favored it, three were employees of the bottling plant and one was a representative from the Gilchrist County Commission who said taxes paid by the bottling operative represents 7% of the budget.
Laine Tuten, who works for the bottling plant, read a letter from employees that highlighted the benefits that Nestle provides in terms of jobs, donations to community activities, social responsibility and other positive aspects.
“We operate our factory responsibly and sustainably … We are working hard to create futures for our family, our friends, Gilchrist County and the surrounding counties where we live,” Tuten said. “We are committed to the health and long-term sustainability of Florida waterways. We are involved in river cleanups, trash pickups, restoration projects and teaching our children and the community how to care about Florida’s natural resources.”
Opponents assailed the permit, saying it will allow more water to be taken out of a spring and river system with no payment to the state at a time when taxpayers are funding a program to restore water levels.
The pumping, they said, is not beneficial or in the public interest — factors that must be met for permitting.
Speakers included a 15-year-old who said he was missing school to join in the meeting on video to oldtimers who are lifelong residents of the area, a woman who performs in springs as a mermaid, representatives of environmental groups and users of the Santa Fe River and its springs….