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How DEP Ignores the Law to Help Nestle and Other Water Users

A law was passed back in 2016 that would have stopped the Seven Springs bottling permit (“Nestle” permit) at Ginnie Springs, if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had actually done what the law required.

Part of the law (373.219(3), F.S.) says that DEP must “adopt uniform rules for issuing permits which prevent groundwater withdrawals that are harmful” to Outstanding Florida Springs.

But for seven years, DEP has Delayed Environmental Protection for Outstanding Florida Springs. They’ve ignored the law and failed to create the required rules to protect springs.

On August 28, 2023 DEP held a public workshop in Gainesville. Such agency meetings are usually sleepy, sparsely attended affairs, but on this day over 100 activists showed up to voice their concerns to DEP officials directly.

a room of people holding up signs
Over 100 springs advocates showed up to show frustration at DEP's failure to follow the law.


Action Alert

FDEP is accepting public comment until Sept. 18, and we've made it easy to send a pre-written email to FDEP. You can send an email to FDEP here:


Dive Deeper

In 2016, Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 552 into law, which included the Florida Springs & Aquifer Protection Act. The authors of the bill, which included David Simmons (R), stated that "The Legislature recognizes that action is urgently needed" and tasked DEP to come up with a "harm rule" that would prevent harm to Outstanding Florida Springs due to water withdrawals.

Yet FDEP has flagrantly disregarded the law and refused to propose statutorily required rules to protect Outstanding Florida Springs. DEP’s failure has resulted in further declines in water quality and water quantity.

In 2022, after more than six years of delay, FDEP finally proposed a draft rule. Incredibly, it was essentially the same as the rules already adopted for all water bodies in 2014 (two years before SB 552 was signed into law.)

The proposed rule was clearly not consistent with the language or spirit of the law. Here’s what State Senator David Simmons, the co-sponsor and author of SB 552, said about the new harm standard back in 2015:

“It is something that is a major, major, step forward in the protection, preservation and clean-up of our springs… What we are doing, is we are putting together a new standard here, not something that has previously been done, but a new standard that defines what is going to control the issuance of the permits and it says we shall prevent groundwater withdrawals which are harmful… I don’t know how much better the Legislature can do in putting something together than this.”

Due to opposition from FSC, Sierra Club, Senator Simmons, and more, DEP withdrew the proposed rule - essentially acknowledging that it was invalid.


In 2023, eighteen months later, DEP came back with another proposed rule. Once again, it is nearly identical to the rules already adopted by DEP and the water management districts. It adds no new protections to Outstanding Florida Springs.

The only difference between the rule proposed last year and this year is Section 62-41.403, “Additional Protections Consistent with Local or Regional Conditions or Objectives.” Ironically, the section adds no “additional protections.” Instead, it clarifies that water management districts are not losing the ability to use existing regulatory tools. It is centered on the adoption of “Restricted Allocation Areas,” which, also ironically, do not require restricting allocations.

The inclusion of this section is an acknowledgement that DEP has not followed the law in adopting rules to prevent harm to Outstanding Florida Springs. Instead, after seven years of incompetence and impotence, DEP is passing responsibility for protecting springs back to the water management districts in direct conflict with the Legislature’s finding that “coordinated statewide” action is necessary.


What should the rule actually look like?

The Florida Springs Council worked with attorneys, scientists, and policy experts to draft a water use permitting harm rule that will actually protect Outstanding Florida Springs. It prioritizes the protection of Outstanding Florida Springs, relies on existing regulatory programs, and recognizes the relationship between water quantity and water quality.

We stepped up where FDEP refused to act. We did the work for them, met with FDEP twice last year to explain it to them, and still no progress has been made.

On Friday Sept 15, 2023 we sent a letter to DEP's Secretary Hamilton with our full analysis of their rulemaking. A permitting harm rule as written by Florida Springs Council is attached as an appendix to the letter.

"The Department’s blatant disregard for its mission has caused untold damage to Florida’s springs, cost valuable time and money, and eroded the faith of the people of Florida in a once respected institution. It has become so captured that it now represents only the most greedy and destructive part of Florida’s regulated industries lobby.
The public is taking note. Only a handful of people attended the initial public workshop in March 2022. Over 100 showed up in August 2023 to express their anger and frustration at the Department’s continued failure to protect Florida’s springs."

Read both the letter and Florida Springs Council's draft of a reasonable rule to protect springs here:

Florida Springs Council 62-41.400 Rulemaking Comment Letter
Download PDF • 136KB


Where are we now?

We will not let FDEP get away with only following the law when it benefits polluters and developers. We will continue until DEP implements the protections for springs that they were given by law, whether by working with DEP to create a reasonable rule or in court. Below is Executive Director Ryan Smart's comments at the workshop.

What can you do?

FDEP is accepting public comment on its proposed draft rule until Sept. 18. Use our system to tell FDEP to adopt the Florida Springs Council’s more protective rule. :

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