Nestle Waters North America, in partnership with Seven Springs Water Company, won approval from the Suwannee River Water Management District this week to draw more than 984,000 gallons of water per day from Ginnie Springs in Gilchrist County. The permit was approved despite vocal objections of environmental activists and progressive lawmakers who argued the permit would cause damage to the state’s natural freshwater sources.
The issue was studied exhaustively for more than two years, during which time no evidence was presented that the application would be harmful to the environment. A previous study concluded that the proposed draw of water only amounted to a fraction of the total daily volume flowing through the spring. The board ultimately concluded the permit met the criteria for reasonable-beneficial use, would not interfere with any presently existing legal use of water; and that the permit application was “consistent with the public interest.”
“They found that there wouldn’t be environmental impacts, there was not going to be any issue with the pumpage and reductions in spring flow or the river,” said Seven Springs attorney Doug Manson, who pointed out the issue had already been exhaustively litigated. “So, those issues were looked at by staff before [we] got to the proceeding.”
Environmentalists were outraged by the decision. Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani, who is considering a run for governor in 2022, ignored the lack of evidence and instead directed attention to the out-of-context number of gallons allowed to be drawn by the permit.
“The fact that a private company with a small permit fee can be granted permission to pump upwards of a million gallons of water constantly is something that every Floridian should be upset by, no matter where you live in the state,” Eskamani said in during online news conference after the meeting.
But experts say a million gallons of water drawn from that area won’t even be noticed. According to two measurements taken years apart and posted in the Florida Geological Survey Bulletin 66, Springs of Florida, Ginnie Springs discharges approximately 37 million gallons of water per day, which, along with seven other nearby springs, all feed into the Sante Fe River. Devil’s Ear Spring, less than 200 yards away, discharges a whopping 133 million gallons of water into the river every single day.
While environmental concerns are unsupported by evidence, the water management district last year did recommended denying the permit on technical grounds related to ownership of the spring. The district’s recommendation triggered a challenge from Seven Springs, which was under contract to supply the water to Nestle. Only after the challenge was filed did environmentalists decide to engage on the issue, and no direct evidence of environmental harm was entered into the record.
Last month, an administrative law judge recommended the water management district approve the permit in spite of the ownership technicalities, leading to this week’s final order in favor of Nestle Waters and Seven Springs.