Fervor Against Water Extractions Extend to Gilchrist County Florida

For Immediate Release

Food and Water Watch
Contact: 

Jorge Aguilar or Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch (202) 683-2500

Fervor Against Water Extractions Extend to Gilchrist County Florida

HIGH SPRINGS, Fla. - A
group of citizens in Gilchrist County, Florida is mobilizing against a
potential contract to extract and bottle more water from the Santa Fe
River, demonstrating that momentum against the corporate control of our
nation's water resources is growing.  While a "special use" permit has
been filed by a campground called Blue Springs, the company that would
ultimately profit from the operation has not been revealed. If
approved, the new bottling facility would pump a minimum 500,000
gallons of water a day.  Coca-Cola already operates a facility 5,000
feet from the proposed site that can pump up to 1.2 million gallons of
water a day.
 

Although the Gilchrist County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to
vote on the proposed permit on September 30, the area's water
management district has not finished an environmental impact study on
the flow of the Santa Fe River. Area activists are concerned that
taking additional water from the springs could negatively impact the
area's delicate ecology while potentially undermining the local tourism
industry. It is unclear how much water is required to sustain a healthy
ecosystem in this sensitive area, which includes an extensive network
of underground caverns. If approved, the bottling operation would
create the need for over 132 trucks a day, coming in empty and the same
amount leaving full, to drive through the area's back roads, many of
which were not designed to support such a burden. 

The area's economy relies on the river and its springs, which are major
tourist attractions. While the precise extent of the proposed new
extraction's impact on the area's tourism industry is unknown, taking
significant quantities of water from the springs will deplete their
levels and natural beauty, making them less attractive to visitors.
Presently, the Santa Fe River is a tributary to the famous Suwannee
River and both are listed as impaired rivers by the Florida Department
of Environmental Protection (FDEP).  The FDEP is in the process of
completing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL's) reports for the rivers
that will analyze the level of pollutants in the river from run-off,
human and animal encroachment, fertilizers and pesticides associated
with agriculture. It is necessary to maintain the historic flow from
the springs to support the delicate balance of the water ecosystem.
 

"If approved, this permit could ignite a domino effect where future
extractions are sanctioned with little regard for the consequences they
may have on the area's ecosystem and communities," remarked Wenonah
Hauter, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food &
Water Watch. "Once a permit has been obtained, a bottler can request at
any time for more water to be extracted. The bottled water industry is
notorious for its lack of regulation. Few quotas exist to limit the
amount of water a company can extract as they are self regulated in the
state of Florida."
 

In March the Gilchrist County Planning Commission voted unanimously to
recommend denial of the proposed plant, citing a lack of compatibility
with the area, insufficient public infrastructure and safety concerns
associated with truck traffic. Minutes from that meeting also reveal
that as of March, a number of issues such as light pollution, storm
water management, site ingress and egress, site coverage, determination
of water recharge areas, buffer zones and wetlands delineation had yet
to be determined.
 

"We are very concerned about more trucks and employee cars coming to
and from this water bottling facility.  Blue Springs and the Coke plant
are miles from the nearest interstate. 

Truck traffic from the Coke
plant uses at least two small town main streets, High Springs and Ft.
White, as their shipping route, causing deafening noise, smog and
safety issues.  We must not allow more water bottlers to put our public
natural resources in plastic bottles to be shipped to the ends of the
earth. 

Water in the state of Florida is held in public trust for all
Floridians and visitors and we must protect it for future growth," 
stated Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, board member for Our Santa Fe River,
Inc., a local citizen group opposed to the extraction of water for
bottle water business.  
 

The current battle in Florida is just one part of a national endeavor
to fight corporate efforts to bottle water from local supplies. Earlier
in the year, activists in Wells, Maine halted a plan by Nestle to open
a well to extract more water for its Poland Springs brand. Similarly,
in McCloud, California activists mobilized to cancel a contract with
Nestle to pump water from nearby Mount Shasta Springs.

"What's happening on the Santa Fe River is not an isolated incident.
Communities around the country are mobilizing to stop the confiscation
of their water by corporate interests. They want control of their water
for their own purposes, not to see it commoditized and sold back to
them at over 250 times its actual value," said Hauter.

Facts About Bottled Water

•       Plastic bottle production in the United States annually
requires about 17.6 million barrels of oil, enough to fuel more than
one million cars.

•       About 86 percent of empty plastic water bottles in the United
States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. That amounts to
about two million tons of PET plastic bottles piling up in U.S.
landfills each year.

•       Bottled water typically costs more than $1 for eight to 12
ounces, amounting to more than $10 per gallon. Most Americans pay
$0.002 per gallon for tap water.

•       According to a Natural Resources Defense Council study of 103
bottled water brands, about one-quarter of the brands tested contained
bacterial or chemical contamination in some samples at levels that
violated "enforceable state standards or warning levels."

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