Updates on the battles for the Santa Fe River

by Mike Roth, President, Our Santa Fe River, Inc.

For the second time this year, the Suwannee River Water Management District had on its agenda a scheduled vote on the Seven Springs Water application to draw about a million gallons of water a day from the already impaired Santa Fe River so that they can sell it to Nestle Waters to put in plastic bottles to sell to the rest of the world.  At maturity, company documents show the plant is capable of producing almost 6,000 bottles per minute. That’s a lot of plastic – and a lot of water!

The water is free to Seven Springs; they sell it to Nestle at a price that is an absolute secret – so secretive that, among other reasons, the contract between them was not made privy to the District, which is one of the three reasons that the District staff recommended denying the permit in March of this year. 

Also, the District staff couldn’t determine that Nestle would be able to process the full amount of the proposed water draw, given that no previous producer under the permit had ever used more than a third of the permitted amount.  

The third reason was that the District staff was unconvinced that if the full amount of the permit was drawn, none of it would be transferred in bulk out of district, which is inconsistent with the Florida Statutes.

Before the Board of Governors could vote, Seven Springs appealed to the Division of Administrative Hearings, and since March this matter was a series of legal arguments on paper to be heard in mid-July, then extended to mid-October.  

Then, on August 3, the District announced that the next Board agenda would include the recommended approval of a revised permit, asking for 984,000 gallons per day instead of the original 1.152 million gallons per day, still over 2½ times the highest amount (and over three times the average amount) of previous withdrawals under the permit. 

Curiously, the staff recommendation report reprints a summary of its previous denial points but doesn’t offer any commentary as to why it no longer believes them to be valid.  

On Aug. 11, there were about 150 people on the District teleconference, which has been the mode of District meetings since March.  As we waited for the public comment period leading to the big vote, long-time Board of Governors member Donald Quincey (in his last meeting of his now expired term) moved to table the question citing (as Our Santa Fe River pointed out to the board over a year ago) the fact that the permittee was not of itself equipped or positioned to use their allocation of water and Nestle, who was to use the water, wasn’t listed on the permit.  He suggested that the Board require Nestle to be a co-permittee, and after some discussion, the Board agreed 5-1 to table it.  

So back to the Division of Administrative Hearings it went, where whole settlement was set aside, and the District immediately moved to add the co-permittee condition to the reasons for denial. Seven Springs/Nestle moved to object; arguments are pending. 

Our Santa Fe River entered the fray on Aug. 21, entering a third-party petition raising points that we believe the District missed in posting its initial denial recommendation.

Nestle has stated that they intend to “operate in a responsible way” – one can only hope that they won’t replicate what they’ve done in drought-stricken California and Ontario, or in Flint Michigan, where local residents didn’t even have access to clean water. 

A simple Google search of “Nestle horror stories” will unearth a dark picture of Nestle as a corporate citizen.  

Protesters in Louisiana and Pennsylvania and Native American women in Cascade Locks, Oregon have succeeded in keeping Nestle out of their neighborhoods – we hope that High Springs can do so as well.

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