Nestlé has sparked outrage among environmentalists over its plans to take more than 1.1 million gallons of water a day from natural springs in Florida.
The clear waters of Ginnie Springs, Gilchrist County, provide a safe haven for a variety of turtles and wading birds that reside on its banks, as well as a place for people to enjoy water sports in a tranquil environment.
However, soon that could all be disrupted as Nestlé’s proposed plan – if it’s approved – could mean there will be substantially less water flowing through the springs.
As reported by The Guardian, the food and beverage giant is planning to sell back the water it takes to the public as bottled water. However, opponents say the river – which is already regarded as being ‘in recovery’ by the Suwannee River water management district after years of overpumping – is too fragile and cannot sustain such a large draw.
Environmentalists are fighting to stop the project, stating it is environmentally harmful and against the public interest, something Nestlé strongly denies. And the company is already making plans to move forward; so far this year, it has spent millions of dollars buying and upgrading a water bottling plant at nearby High Springs – expecting permission to be granted.
Despite objections from critics, Nestlé – which employs 800 people in Florida – insists spring water is a rapidly renewable resource and promises a ‘robust’ management plan in partnership with its local agents for long-term sustainability of its water sources.
However, company officials have admitted to water managers supporting the permit request that its plans would result in four times as much water being taken daily than Seven Springs’ previous record high of 0.26 million gallons.
George Ring, natural resources manager for Nestlé Waters North America, confirmed as much to the Suwannee district engineers in a letter sent in June.
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 gallon.
A decision on the matter could come as soon as November, with campaigners fighting against it via an online forum and letters of opposition.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, director of the non-profit organisation Our Santa Fe River, said the real question should be: ‘How much harm is it going to cause the spring, what kind of change is going to be made in that water system?’.
The director added:
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.
Furthermore, Malwitz-Jipson said the Santa Fe River and its associated spring habitats are home to 11 native turtle species and four non-native species, which rely on a vigorous water flow and river levels. ‘A big threat to this diversity is habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows,’ the director continued.
The district is currently in conversation with Seven Springs to request an evaluation report of any harm the project might cause to wetlands, as well as a documented impact study of Ginnie Springs.
Unless Seven Springs can show there would be no change in water levels or flows and no adverse impacts to water quality, vegetation or animal population, the district says the permit cannot be granted.
Nestlé said in a statement provided to The Guardian it wanted to address ‘misconceptions’ about its plans, saying it would make no sense ‘to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies’.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).