Water activist opposes Nestlé’s plan to bottle 1 million gallons a day from Florida springs

Manatee Springs State Park. Photo by Ebyabe via Wikicommons

Nestlé wants to take more than one million gallons of water a day from Florida springs near Ginnie Springs and the Santa Fe River; the giant multinational corporation plans to put the water into plastic bottles and sell it at a tremendous markup.

But environmentalists oppose the move. WMNF interviewed Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, a board member with Our Santa Fe River, Inc.

Last week she co-authored an op-ed that was published in the Orlando Sentinel called “Nestle taking water from the aquifer for private profit isn’t in the public interest.”

We talked about water in Florida and who has the right to use it and for what purposes.

Nestle is thought to be interested in a water bottling plant near High Springs, Florida, under the water permit owned by Seven Springs Water, which applied to the Suwannee River Water Management District for a five-year renewal of permit.

But Malwitz-Jipson writes that it wouldn’t be “consistent with the public interest” as required by Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit rules. She warns that more water withdrawals from Santa Fe River could further harm rivers and springs. She points out that taxpayers are funding the replenishment of the aquifer already, so allowing Nestlé to remove the water and sell it back to consumers would be counterproductive.

Listen to the full show here.

“Nestlé has a history here in Florida. Many of your listeners may or may not know, Zephyrhills is a company that Nestlé bottles water under that name brand. They also bottle under the name brand Poland Springs somewhere else in the country. However, in Florida they also bottle water, not only in the Zephyrhills location, which is just outside of the Hillsborough area, but they also bottle water in Madison County. Huge facilities that are using our fresh water and putting it in plastic and sending it around the world.

“And so, occasionally, at both of these plants they have complications with their water supply. In Madison, for instance, the water ‘browns out’ when we get high water levels, and they have to get their water resources from outside sources, other than the well itself, where they have their plants.

“And so, we know for a fact that they do inter-district transference of water, which has its own issues in Florida. We used to believe that that was not allowed. Well, there are memos of agreements between the Water Management Districts that allow these transferences of water to take place. …”

“They have this water resource where there was an existing facility on County Road 340 where Coca-Cola [Dasani] bottled water. Where Ice River Springs, the Canadian company, bottled water. And prior to those two companies, two other bottling companies were there bottling water. Four companies have already been here and gone.

“And so now, Nestlé strategically has a logistical position where they can get this enormous amount of water. The permit that was on the books 20 years ago that was allowed 20 years ago before we had all the science that we have today of course. They were allowed to take 1,152,000 gallons a day out of two bore wells that are located very close to Santa Fe River Springs in the Ginnie Springs Park system, the Ginny Springs campground system.

“The water that had been used in the past, these other four companies, only bottled up to approximately 300,000 gallons of water a day: 270,000 to 300,000. They could never bottle that much water. The plant itself has been built out several times. In fact, Nestlé, right today, is getting ready for another expansion project. And that expansion project is widening the roads for more truck traffic at the facilities, building a bulk transfer station for freshwater, and building a bulk transfer station for wastewater. The wastewater is a is a ‘scratching our head’ thing. We don’t really quite understand how bottled water creates waste. But, we’ll get to that when we get further down the road with this extraction of the permit situation.

“So, we’re talking about an increase of four to five times more than what they have in the past extracted. Even though they were allowed to extract 1,152,000 gallons a day, they didn’t. And, this Nestlé model — if you will — model of ‘Let’s take all the water we can get from the local sources and put it in plastic,’ this model shows us that they intend to take that water because they can just ship it to their other facilities and bottle it in the other facilities.”

On August 11, the Gainesville Sun editorial board recommended that the Suwannee River Water Management District staff and board should protect the Santa Fe River. They write that “Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are already being spent in Florida on projects to recharge the aquifer and restore damage caused by excessive water withdrawals.”

The vice president of Seven Springs Water Company told the Sun it does not discuss permit applications while the process is underway. According to the Sun, when Nestlé purchased the bottling plant it wrote, “This strategically located facility will enable us to more efficiently serve current and future customers of our popular Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water and Nestle Pure Life bottled water brands.”

A 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek article has made the rounds on social media recently: Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water it Pays Nearly Nothing For. It points out that Nestlé has 100 bottled water factories in 34 countries. It continues, “The company’s former chief executive officer, Helmut Maucher, said in a 1994 interview with the New York Times: ‘Springs are like petroleum. You can always build a chocolate factory. But springs you have or you don’t have.’”

There are two Facebook event pages related to this story. One seems to be mostly tongue-in-cheek:

Mermaids & Humans Save Ginnie Springs from Nestlé” is Saturday, August 31 at 1000 a.m. at Ginnie Springs in High Springs, FL.

Let’s all pee in Ginnie Springs so Nestlé can’t pump the water” is October 4 at noon.

In years past, we’ve spoken to Malwitz-Jipson about her opposition to the Sabal Trail methane gas pipeline.

Here’s a link to two recent interviews WMNF’s Rob Lorei did on Florida’s springs, including one with the executive director of the Florida Springs Council.


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