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THE FIGHT AGAINST
NESTLE & GINNIE SPRINGS

The Florida Springs Council launched a lawsuit to stop the water use permit that allows the owners of Ginnie Springs to pump nearly 1 million gallons of water per day from the springs to sell to Nestle/BlueTriton for bottling.

Photo by Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Watch the 14-minute Documentary

Trailer for "The Water State" 

Journalists

Media outlets, please contact FSC executive director Ryan Smart at smart@floridaspringscouncil.org

Photos and more for media use available HERE

RECENT UPDATES

On July 31, 2023, Florida Springs Council’s phenomenal attorney Doug McLaughlin (shown here in court with FSC Director Ryan Smart) filed the Proposed Recommended Order for our “Nestle” case to the administrative law judge.  

In May of 2023, the Florida Springs Council presented our case against the Seven Springs Water Company’s permit to bottle water from Ginnie Springs before the Division of Administrative Hearings. Since then, our lawyers and staff have been working hard to prepare our proposed recommended order. 

The proposed recommended order is each side's summary of how the case should be interpreted and ruled. With these proposed recommended orders in hand from each side, the administrative law judge can proceed with providing a final ruling.

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The proposed recommended order covers the primary issue in this case, which is "whether District Rule 40B-2.301(1)(c), Fla. Admin. Code, was met by the Water Management District when this permit renewal was granted. That rule, often referred to as the “third prong” of the three-part water use permitting requirement, requires an applicant for a water use permit to provide reasonable assurance that the proposed water use is “consistent with the public interest.” 

Read the entire Proposed Recommended Order HERE.

Want to take a deep dive into the "Public Interest"

aspect of Florida Water Law? 

The University of Florida's Law Conservation Clinic took a detailed look at the

public interest test in consumptive use permitting. Their report, as well as a

presentation, can be found at  

https://www.floridaspringscouncil.org/inthepublicinterestwaterusepermits

May 10, 2023 
The case began at 9am in the Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee on May 10, 2023. Photo below: an expert witness is questioned by the attorney for Seven Springs Water Co.

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November 2022 FSC won an important hurdle in this case - the 1st District Court of Appeals unanimously supported FSC’s right to challenge the permit. 

Attorneys for Seven Springs Water Co. did everything possible to prevent the Florida Springs Council from presenting our case in an Administrative Hearing. We not only won, but the three-judge panel unanimously  upheld FSC’s right to a hearing. (read the full ruling here)


Florida Springs Council vs Seven Springs Water Co.
BACKGROUND

The Basics

What is Nestle's role?

While the case is often called the "Nestle" case, Nestle is not directly involved.

  • Seven Springs Water Co., owned by the owners of Ginnie Springs Outdoors, holds and profits from the permit.

  • The Suwannee River Water Management District granted the permit. 

  • The Water Management District and Seven Springs Water Company are being challenged by FSC in this legal case. 

  • Seven Springs Water Company does not bottle water. They sell the water they pull for free to the bottling plant nearby, which was owned by Nestle Waters at the time of the permit. Nestle's purchase of the bottling plant just before the permit was renewed enabled the plant to triple their capacity, tripling the amount that would be pulled from the spring.

  • Nestle Waters North America sold their bottled water interests, which underwent a name change and now operate as BlueTriton.

Harm to the spring and river

Ginnie Springs flows into the Santa Fe River which is already suffering “significant harm” from over-pumping. The Santa Fe River no longer meets its mandated "MFL," Minimum Flow and Level, below which the river ecosystem experiences significant harm. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, when fully operational, the pumping authorized under this permit will cause a 4 percent reduction in flows from Ginnie Springs to the Santa Fe River, as much as all other uses combined.

The Permit

On February 23rd, 2021 the Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board (District) approved a controversial water use permit renewal requested by Seven Springs Water Company, owned by the operators of the Ginnie Springs campground, to provide nearly 1 million gallons of water per day to be bottled and sold by Nestle (now known as BlueTriton.) 

The District approved the permit under protest after losing an earlier court case to Seven Springs Water Co. Nonetheless, in approving the water use permit, the District ignored a legal requirement to consider the public interest, violated their own rules, and exposed serious flaws in water use permitting. 

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The Florida Springs Council immediately filed a legal challenge to the permit to protect the rights of our members and protect the Santa Fe River. We petitioned for a Hearing in the Department of Administrative Hearings, or DOAH, the court where cases involving state agency actions are decided. 

The legal challenge
We argue that the SRWMD was required to deny the permit for two reasons:

First, Seven Springs Water Co., the name under which the owners of Ginnie Springs applied for the permit, does not own or control the neighboring bottling facility where the water use will occur. Currently that facility is owned by BlueTriton (the new name of Nestle Waters North America.)

 

Under SRWMD rules, Seven Springs Water Co., therefore, does not have the legal right to conduct the water use. Without the actual water user on the permit, the SRWMD has no way to assure that the allocated water will be used in a reasonable and beneficial manner or enforce compliance with SRWMD rules.  UPDATE MAY 2023: BlueTriton agreed to go onto the permit before the case began.

 

Second, the SRWMD Governing Board failed to consider whether issuing the consumptive use permit was “consistent with the public interest” as required by SRWMD rules and Florida Statute. The district's rules require that all permits pass a "Three Prong Test."

  1. Is the water use reasonable-beneficial

  2. Does the water use interfere with an existing legal use

  3. Is the permit in the public interest

The SRWMD rules define “public interest” as the “broad-based interests and concerns that are collectively shared by members of a community or residents of the District or State.” These interests and concerns, which include environmental impacts, were not addressed in the permit application nor by the SRWMD Governing Board in making their decision to grant the permit. 

Ensuring that a permit is in the “public interest” is the most important of the three prongs. It literally represents our interest in how our most important resource, groundwater, is used. Unfortunately, water management districts have stopped considering what is in the public’s best interest when issuing water use permits, even when the public makes their interests and concerns crystal clear. In this case, more than 19,000 people wrote comments to the SRWMD, the vast majority of which opposed issuing the permit because of the additional harm it would do to the Santa Fe River.

Access the full legal petition at https://www.floridaspringscouncil.org/_files/ugd/719d3f_2b32de36b91a4feba17be77f3501d1da.pdf

The hearing took place in the Division of Administrative Hearings on May 10, 2023. We are awaiting a ruling.

Ryan Smart Florida Springs Council Nestle

We have already passed the point of sustainable withdrawals in the Santa Fe River Basin because our water management districts have been asleep at the wheel.

 

Once again, non-profit advocacy groups like the Florida Springs Council are stepping in where our state agencies have failed. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and say no more. If Nestle wants our water, we are going to make them come and take it.

Ryan Smart,
Florida Springs Council
Executive Director

What you can do

Sign up for a free Florida Springs Council membership to stay informed. An informed and vocal springs community is key to change, which is why we offer the membership for free. We need your participation, your calls and emails to decision-makers, your presence at meetings, your voice behind our mission.

DIVE DEEPER:
Learn more about Nestle, Water Bottling, and the Florida Springs Council's efforts to overturn the permit:

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