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LIVE OAK ‒ The Suwannee River Water Management District’s Governing Board has voted to table an anticipated staff recommendation to approve the Seven Springs Water Company Water Use Permit renewal application. The vote was taken at the Board’s Aug. 11 meeting. The Board’s determination to table the permit was made based on its view that the company actually bottling the water should be listed as an applicant on the permit application.

Seven Springs has held a permit issued by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) to withdraw water from Ginnie Springs for 20 years. The permit allows withdrawals up to 1.152 million gallons a day from the spring, but as a smaller local plant, their average withdrawal has been a quarter of the amount, peaking at under 270,000 gallons per day for the past four years.

In January 2019, Nestle Waters North America Corporation (NWNA) purchased the bottling plant from Seven Springs in anticipation of receiving the permit after Seven Springs renewed it. Within the next five years, NWNA anticipates operating four product lines at this facility, one renovated line capable of producing 1,350 half-liter bottles per minute (BPM), and three new lines capable of producing 1,500 BPM and adding two new high-speed bottling lines to the two existing ones. NWNA will also pay an undisclosed amount to Seven Springs.

There is opposition to the Nestle plant by some who say that allowing up to 1.152 million gallons a day to be pumped by Nestle Waters bottling plant would harm the Santa Fe River system, reduce water for public use and is not in the public interest as required by state law for approval of permits.

Nestle maintains they are good stewards of the environment and the bottling plant brings jobs and tax revenue to Florida's economy.

As part of the permitting process, the SRWMD previously requested information from Seven Springs confirming that the withdrawals would not damage the recovering river and were in the best interest of the public. Despite requests for three separate reports, the documents were not provided and SRWMD staff initially recommended denying the permit due to incomplete information from Seven Springs.

The denial recommendation was to be reviewed by the SRWMD Board of Governors at a meeting on March 10, 2020. On March 9,2020, Seven Springs and Nestle filed a petition for administrative hearing on the matter. The petition was forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for consideration by an Administrative Law Judge as required by law, effectively taking the matter out of SRWMD’s authority.

Prior to the hearing, Seven Springs provided the information requested earlier by SRWMD and the hearing was canceled, placing the decision back in the hands of the water management district.

Based on the new information, it was anticipated that SWRMD staff would recommend approving the permit at the Aug. 11 Board of Governors meeting. Now that the Board has tabled the permit renewal, that recommendation is in limbo.

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