The following article appeared in the Observer, vol.17 Num.7 September 2019. There is no online access.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
August 26, 2019
Water Water Everywhere? (Leave us a drop to drink…)
We continuously argue back and forth with the Suwannee River Water Management District as to the propriety of taking a couple of hundred thousand gallons of water a day for operations involved in putting food on our tables. Now along comes this behemoth international corporation, Nestle Waters North America, asking to take over a million gallons a day just so that they can increase their profits. I perceive this as an assault on our lifestyle and well-being.
Fortunately, Chapter 373 of the Florida Statutes is there to protect us. Unfortunately, there are different interpretations as to the purpose and intent of that chapter.
Section 373.219, F.S., provides:
“The governing board or the department 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.” (emphasis added)
What are the overall objectives of the district? A St. Johns Water Management District presentation suggests it is to “Identify economically feasible sources of water and implementation strategies to meet water supply needs through the planning period without causing unacceptable impacts.” Would the development of a cone of depression causing local wells to go dry be considered “unacceptable impacts”? Is the district sure that pumping FOUR TIMES what has been pumped previously will not result in such impacts?
“Conservation” appears numerous times in F.S. 373 and appears to be of great interest to the legislature: “373.621 Water conservation. —The Legislature recognizes the significant value of water conservation in the protection and efficient use of water resources.” It then goes on to specify a “three prong test”:
1 – Must be “reasonable – beneficial” – this speaks of 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. Is the purpose to sell otherwise publicly available water for corporate profit consistent with the public interest?
2 – Must not interfere with existing legal users:
- Existing legal uses includes permitted uses and exempt uses, such as domestic wells – we are all existing users
- Cannot decrease the withdrawal capability of any facility of a legal use of water which 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 – Must be consistent with the public interest – “Public Interest” means those rights and claims on behalf of people in general. “In determining the public interest in consumptive use permitting decisions, the Board will consider 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.” (Section 9.3 SJRWMD Applicant’s Handbook, Consumptive Uses of Water). 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 says that if there are two or more competing applications then the district shall approve the application that most serves the public interest. Is there an implied application to do nothing? What if doing nothing best serves the public interest?
You don’t have to be a Google genius to find evidence of environmental or human problems caused by Nestle. From using slave labor in Thailand to deforestation of the Ivory Coast to price fixing in Canada to the aggressive promotion of formula over breast milk in third world countries, it is the steady reclassification of water as a need rather than a right that relates more directly to our concerns here.
Former Nestle CEO Brabeck-Letmathe has stated, “I am the first one to say water is a human right. This human right is the five liters (1.3 gals) of water we need for our daily hydration and the 25 liters (6.6 gals) we need for minimum hygiene. [ . . . ] Where I have an issue is that the 98.5 percent 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, although it is the most precious resource we have.” So the responsible manner would be to privatize it and sell it? Was it responsible to pump 210 million gallons a year from an aquifer two hours from Flint, Michigan, where residents don’t even have access to Brabeck-Letmathe’s gracious allocation?
And the there’s the false greenwashing advertising campaign in Canada that claimed that most water bottles are recycled rather than trashed
There are almost $38M in proposed Springs projects and $12M in proposed river projects for the next year – $50M of taxpayer money proposed for increasing the health and vitality of our rivers and streams, and along comes Nestle Waters North America to just help itself to almost a half billion gallons of our precious resource each year. We have to buy their raw materials so they can put it in plastic and sell it back to us? Again, I ask, how does this best serve the public interest?
We can only hope that the Suwannee River Water Management District possesses the commitment to duty necessary to turn them down.
Michael Roth, President
Our Santa Fe River, Inc.