Ginnie Springs, with its crystal blue waters is a hidden treasure found along the Santa Fe River in Florida. Known popularly among water sports enthusiasts, it is also a haven that houses different species of turtles which nest on its banks. This picturesque serenity is soon to change if the giant food and beverage magnate, Nestlé wins their approval of being able to get tons of water from the springs.
This controversial move of the worldwide company has outraged locals and environmentalists alike, when they found out that Nestlé has asked for permission to get 1.1 million gallons of water on a daily basis from the natural springs and sell it to the public as bottled water.
People are fighting this with reasons of it being environmentally harmful and against the interest of the public. At present, they say that the river is already fragile and is now officially deemed as “in recovery” by the Suwannee River Water Management District after a number of years wherein over pumping occurred, therefore it won’t be able to sustain another over pump – although this claim has been denied by Nestlé.
This is not the first time this company has done something like this. Nestlé also makes their Pure Life and Zephyrhills products by extracting water from other natural springs within Florida, and has invested millions of dollars in the upgrade and purchase of their water bottling plant in High Springs, with the hope of being granted the permission. Back in 2017, the California State Water Resources Control Board started an investigation on the company regarding a water diversion “without a valid basis of right” from Strawberry Canyon in San Bernardino national forest for their other brand, Arrowhead.
For the next step to work, the company is waiting for Suwannee River Water Management District to renew the now expired water permit that was once being used by a local company called Seven Springs, in order for them to purchase the water for a certain cost. Nestlé has claimed that spring water is a renewable source at a rapid rate, and promised a “robust” management plan that will be upheld in a partnership with their local agents to achieve a long-term sustainability of the water sources.
The company is finding difficulty in getting approval because their permit is requesting 400% more water extraction daily, as compared to that of Seven Springs’ previously recorded highest extraction of only 0.26 million gallons in one day.
The natural resources manager of Nestlé Waters in North America, George Ring, wrote a letter to the Suwannee district engineers saying:
“The facility is in process of adding bottling capacity and expects significant increase in production volumes equal to the requested annual average daily withdrawal volume of approximately 1.152m gallons.”
Campaigners that are against this plan have set in place a petition and online forum with letters of opposition. They have said that with the basis of environmental grounds alone, it should already be able to reject the request.
“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?” Director of Our Santa Fe River, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson said.
“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.”
She also added that the Santa Fe River and all the spring habitats surrounding it is home to 16 turtle species that are reliant on the flow of water and its river levels.
“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.”
Nestlé, which employs 800 people in Florida alone, came out with a written statement to address all misconceptions the public has about their plans.
“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,” spokesperson Adam Gaber said, adding that Nestlé’s water use “will always remain strictly within the limit set by the permit.”
He said that Nestlé was also a responsible steward of the environment. “Our business depends on the quality and sustainability of the water we are collecting. 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.”
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