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Posted on: September 8, 2019 at 8:34 am

“It’s impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water and not have an impact. If you take any amount of water out of a glass you will always have less.”

 – Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, director of the not-for-profit Our Santa Fe River [1]

Global food and beverage giant Nestlé is seeking a water-use permit from the Suwannee River Water Management District, SRWMD, that will allow them to pump 1.152 million gallons of water daily from the Ginnie Springs in Florida [1]. The permit will go to Seven Springs, a local water plant from which Nestlé plans to purchase the water. The company previously had a 20-year permit from the District, but Nestlé is seeking to secure a five-year renewal to facilitate its water requirements from the company. Currently employing about 800 people in the State of Florida, Nestlé globally markets the Zephyrhills® and Pure Life® water brands.

Earlier this year in January, Nestlé bought a water bottling plant situated in High Springs, located close to Ginnie Springs [2]. The company has spent millions upgrading the plant in anticipation of the permit’s approval. Ginnie Springs is one of the lovely natural springs located in the Santa Fe River, Gilchrist County, Florida. The spring is home to some of the most beautiful species in the country, with crystal blue waters and outstanding purity. About 11 native and 4 non-native turtle species are dependent on the deepwater levels in Ginnie Springs for their survival. It’s also a center for several water-based sporting activities.

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The Santa Fe River is part of a fragile ecosystem, one that faced depletion some years ago due to excessive exploration from bottling companies. According to the Suwannee River Water Management District, the river is still in recovery. Opponents of Nestlé’s proposal are certain that the company would damage the river’s ecosystem permanently if they are allowed to follow through with the plan. Nestlé has refuted these claims, stating that the river would suffer no substantial damage from their proposed activities.

Seven springs will pump four times more than they previously did

Nestlé claims that the spring is a ‘rapidly renewable resource’ and can withstand the massive daily withdrawal that would be carried out year-round. However, Seven Springs officials admit that the amount of Water Nestlé plans to purchase daily is four times more than the highest they’ve ever drawn, which was about 0.26 million gallons a day [1].

A non-profit organization in Florida, Our Santa Fe River, has set up an online petition forum against Nestlé’s plans, calling on water lovers around the world to lend their voices to the fight. They argue that the District shouldn’t make a decision solely based on the so-called minimal environmental changes.

“The question is how much harm is it going to cause the spring, what kind of change is going to be made in that water system?” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, one of the organization’s directors.

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“The Santa Fe River is already in decline [and] there’s not enough water coming out of the aquifer itself to recharge these lovely, amazing springs that are iconic and culturally valued and important for natural systems and habitats. It’s impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water and not have an impact. If you take any amount of water out of a glass you will always have less,” he said.

However, there’s hope for the aqua hearts of Florida. Speaking to the Independent, Lindsey Garland, the Public Communications Coordinator of the District says the approval of the request cannot move forward for now [3]

“Their first response we didn’t feel was complete, so we asked for them to go into more detail,” she said. “Once they respond we will review that information.” The company was asked to provide a documented review of the impact the exploration will have on the spring. They also have to provide a report of the expected damage that could be done to the surrounding wetlands.

861 objections have been filed by citizens opposing the plan as of August 26. If Seven Springs cannot prove that there would be no effect on the “water levels or flows of the source spring from the normal rate and range of function” and “no adverse impacts to water quality, vegetation or animal population”, they would not be permitted to pump from the spring. 

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Nestlé is no new customer to controversy

According to a 36-page report filed by the State Water Resources Control Board of California in 2017, Nestlé has been pumping water without legal rights from the Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernardino National Forest [4]. Nestlé isn’t fazed by the countless non-profit organizations fighting against its actions. According to the Desert Sun, in 2018, the company pumped at least 45 million gallons of water from the Strawberry Canyon, amidst the heavy criticism [5]

Commenting on the uprising against its plans to pump from Ginnie, spokesman Adam Gaber says that Nestlé will always stick to the water limit stipulated by the permit if it gains approval.

“We adhere to all relevant regulatory and state standards. Just like all the previous owners of the High Springs factory which manufactured bottled water and other beverages, we are not taking water from a publicly owned source. Instead, we are buying water from a private company which holds the valid water use permit. It would make no sense to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies. It would undermine the success of our business and go against every value we hold as people and as a company.”

Speaking about the effect the plan will have on the fauna species that live in the spring, Malwitz-Jipson said to The Independent, “Few places on Earth have as many turtle species living together and about a quarter of all North American freshwater turtle species inhabit this small river system. A big threat to this diversity is habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows.”

  1. Richard Luscombe. Nestlé plans to take 1.1m gallons of water a day from natural springs sparks outcry. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/26/nestle-suwannee-river-ginnie-springs-plan-permit. Retrieved 05-09-19
  2. Admin. Nestlé Waters North America Purchases Bottling Facility in High Springs, Florida. Nestle Waters North America. https://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/nestle-water-news/pressreleases/nestle-waters-acquires-bottling-facility-florida. Retrieved 05-09-19
  3. Lily Puckett. Nestle attempts to pump 1.1m gallons of water per day from fragile US spring. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/nestle-florida-water-spring-bottle-santa-fe-river-a9079791.html. Retrieved 05-09-19
  4. State Water Resources Control Board of California. Report Investigation, INV 8217. Water Boards CA. https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/enforcement/complaints/docs/nestle/roi_final.pdf. Retrieved 05-09-19
  5. Janet Wilson. Nestlé is still taking national forest water for its Arrowhead label, with feds’ help. Desert Sun. https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/environment/2019/06/13/nestle-still-taking-public-forest-water-its-arrowhead-label-feds-help/1362211001/. Retrieved 05-09-19
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