The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) board approved today a permit that grants Nestlé access to a million gallons of Ginnie Springs water a day.
The decision came after dozens of residents, scientists and springs conservationists spoke of the negative impact the removal of the water from the Floridan aquifer would have on an already ailing system that experts say is in state of recovery.
In addition to the public comments against approval, Alachua County expressed its concerns in a letter to the board before its decision, saying the removal of water affects Alachua County water systems.
“We are concerned with potential negative impacts on Poe Springs and other water resources within the Lower Santa Fe watershed,” the letter said.
In the letter Alachua County asked the board to issue a temporary moratorium on consumptive use permits to allow time for more study of the “reasonable beneficial use” and “public interest” criteria—and to gather broad public support.
“With the current outcry from the public, it seems prudent to clearly define and understand these prongs of the [consumptive use permit] process,” the letter said.
Alachua County cited the status report published earlier this month showing conditions in the Lower Santa Fe have improved since 2014, but it said the matter needs more study: “It will be important to clearly demonstrate how this improvement was achieved, as some members of the public currently believe that the criteria were just simply changed to achieve this result.”
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) was still in session when the water district issued its decision, allowing the board to discuss the approval in the evening portion of the meeting.
The BOCC agenda has “Seven Springs Consumptive Use Permit Discussion” listed as item nine. “If a legal challenge is pursued, the CAO will need a budget for hiring legal and technical professional services,” the fiscal consideration states.
The recommended action proposed on the agenda states, “Direct County staff to follow both the consumptive use permit process for this application and the process for establishing minimum flows and levels for the Santa Fe River. Report back to the Commission with updates on any relevant action taken by the Water Management District.”
In a statement provided to Mainstreet Daily News, Nestlé Water North America spokesperson Lisa Garcia said the 984,000 gallons per day allowed under the new permit is less than its previous permit and that it represents less than one-quarter of 1 percent of SRWMD’s groundwater.
“Spring water is a renewable resource when managed responsibly,” she said, pointing to studies that found Nestlé’s withdrawals would not harm the area. “We support the science behind the Seven Springs permit application and will continue to take great care to help Seven Springs Water Company as needed to ensure that the water withdrawn from Ginnie Springs that we buy will not adversely impact the spring, river, or surrounding wetlands.”