The Amy H Remley Foundation  

Florida's Bottled Water

Use of the Three Sisters Springs for private profiteering has rightly met with public outcry.

The bottled water industry eyes the spring water resources of Florida as a source of private profit to the detriment of Floridians' valued privilege to enjoy these natural "bowls of liquid light". The law of the land prescribes that the water, both over sovereign lands and elsewhere does not belong to any land owner but is held in trust for all the people by the state and by the nation. To take the water from springs or underground supplies and sell it back to the owners at a profit to some international conglomerate, appears to many to be immoral. Albeit, some may wish to contribute to a corporation's profits for the convenience or status of drinking from a bottle, but the strength of outcry would indicate that this is not the view of all those citizens having an ownership stake in the commodity.

A world drinking water shortage is attracting increasing attention. In Florida, not only do the springs enrich the lives of residents and visitors a like, they contribute to the natural water supply system that supports the state's ever growing population. Fortunately, public and political attention is being focused on the springs, concurrent with this boom in bottled water consumption. Increasingly, though, the citizens receive the water that the springs deliver from the aquifer from a bottle as well as from a tap.

Rights to water both over and under land may only be conveyed to others when manifestly in the public interest to meet certain demand, or other wise when not contrary to the public interest. The water management districts (WMD) are specifically authorized to issue consumptive use permits on behalf of the public trust.

Consumptive Use Permitting

Headed by governing boards with members appointed by the Florida governor, the WMDs are responsible for "planning and water resource development," including the issuance of consumptive use permits (CUPs). Each district has conditions that applicants must meet in order to obtain their permit. In the Southwest Water Management District, for instance, permit applicants must demonstrate that the water use is reasonable and beneficial, is in the public interest, and will not interfere with any existing legal use of water, by providing reasonable assurances, on both an individual and a cumulative basis, that the water use:

  1. Is necessary to fulfill a certain reasonable demand (which posits the question when is it reasonable to have bottled as opposed to faucet supply);
  2. Will not cause quantity or quality changes which adversely impact the water resources, including both surface and ground waters;
  3. Will not cause adverse environmental impacts to wetlands, lakes, streams, estuaries, fish and wildlife or other natural resource;
  4. Will comply with the provision of 4.3 of the Basis of Review described in Rule 40D-2.091, F.A.C.;
  5. Will utilize the lowest water quality the Applicant has the ability to use;
  6. Will not significantly induce saline water intrusion;
  7. Will not cause pollution of the aquifer;
  8. Will not adversely impact offsite land uses existing at the time of application;
  9. Will not adversely impact an existing legal withdrawal;
  10. Will utilize local water resources to the greatest extent practicable;
  11. Will incorporate water conservation measures (which posits the conservation of overall supplies within the laws governing such supplies);
  12. Will incorporate reuse measures to the greatest extent practicable;
  13. Will not cause water to go to waste; and
  14. Will not otherwise be harmful to water resources within the District.

Minimum Flows and Levels

A statute mandating the Water Management Districts to establish minimum flows and levels for each surface water and aquifer within their jurisdiction was passed into state law in 1972.

A minimum flow is the flow for a surface waterbody that is the boundary at which any further withdrawals from the waterbody would result in significant harm to the water resources or ecology of the area. A minimum level, for aquifer groundwater and surface water, is the level at which any further withdrawals would result in significant harm to the area's water resources. The "significant harm" standard of the statute is the one notable distinction with previous enactments using simply "harm", and begs the interpretation of what is "significant". Note that one feature frequently overlooked in setting MFLs concerns the stream velocity below which algae form and bloom more readily, as nutrient cocktail loads abide with algae over a longer period and algal elements find it more easy to remain in contact with a benthic substrate.

Considering minimum flows and levels (MFLs), the spin of the title sounds fine. It seems as if MFLs protect too much water being taken from our water resources. However, at a meeting of September 19th, 2007, a speaker proclaimed that MFLs would allow water to be taken from watershed and springshed areas in times of surplus, meaning when MFL levels are naturally exceeded by heavier rains in season, to be pumped into a couple of off - line reservoirs to be used as supply in times of drought. Furthermore, as MFLs for Citrus County are not yet set, his consultancy would set "proxy" (fake) levels so that planning could proceed (gaining false traction for their prognostications).

What was not said was, that once residing in any man made reservoir, that water would not be protected by the Local Sources First doctrine but be available to anyone as an alternative water source (AWS) for them. Moreover, the reservoir water would be exposed to evaporation back into the atmosphere, instead of being part underground, to join the seventy percent of rainfall which already regularly returns to the atmosphere by evaporation and plant transpiration. The off take would also lower the aquifer head to reduce the sovereignty spring outflows to the detriment of our coastal rivers which contribute millions of dollars to the County's economy. River water quality would also degrade with increased algae bloom and increased salt water intrusion.

Furthermore, a setting of a MFL does not take account of future development already sanctioned at the time the MFL is set. According to the WRWSA legal advisor, fifty thousand homes are already platted in Citrus County and not yet built. The major retail and housing developments contemplated in Citrus County will act as magnets to attract sales of those platted sites as well as those featured in the development proposals. Growth of fifty thousand homes in The Villages within the SJRWMD is calling for seven million gallons per day from AWS by 2025, the similar amount required for Citrus County growth does not show in the calculations, to say nothing of the three million gallons of fresh water per day reportedly required to scrub pollution from the existing Crystal River power plant emissions.

Various factors for determining MFLs are enumerated in the Florida Administrative Code. These include recreation in and on the water; fish and wildlife habitats, including fish passage; estuarine resources (sea grass health as nurture for commercial and recreational fishing); transfer of detrital material; maintenance of freshwater storage and supply; aesthetic and scenic attributes; filtration and absorption of nutrients and other pollutants; sediment loads; water quality; and navigation.


Threats to these spring waters include careless use of fertilizer and pesticides for agriculture, landscaping, and golf courses; other pollutants in contaminated stormwater runoff; livestock waste; development in high aquifer recharge areas; leaking septic and underground storage tanks; silt buildup and sedimentation that blocks spring flow; and over pumping of the aquifer for consumptive use of the water. These threats affect both water quality and water quantity.

Negative effects on human health concentrate much attention on qualitative threats. In response, government agencies and other research bodies have developed various Best Management Practices (BMPs) for many of the activities that degrade water quality. The effects of these BMPs often take a long time before any benefit is felt in water quality from the springs. Quantitative issues have proven to be the more difficult to combat. On the whole, Florida has struggled with water supply and use issues since the late 1950s through the present, with no sustaining answer in sight. Bottled water has become a significant factor in these policy debates as degradation has become more prevalent due to over pumping for consumptive use and the effect of drought upon aquifer levels and head pressures.

Public water utilities have historically dominated the arena and will continue to do so as Florida's population grows and older urban centers look to rural communities to provide a quick fix for their increasingly inadequate water supplies. But that makes the question of bottling spring water all the more imperative. It is difficult enough to plan and manage equable clean water supplies without intervention of those seeking supplies under the radar, so to speak, or for private profit.

Spring Water defined

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth" may be labeled as "spring water". The FDA further mandates that: Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. There shall be a natural force causing the water to flow to the surface through a natural orifice... Spring water collected with the use of an external force shall be from the same underground stratum as the spring, as shown by a measurable hydraulic connection using a hydrogeologically valid method between the bore hole and the natural spring, and shall have all the physical properties, before treatment, and be of the same composition and quality, as the water that flows naturally to the surface of the earth. If spring water is collected with the use of an external force, water must continue to flow naturally to the surface of the earth through the spring's natural orifice.


Citizens form coalitions or speak as individuals before decision makers. Local governments block industry development through denying special use permits, administrative review, and by courting state-funded land acquisition. The Water Management Districts use standards set forth in the Florida Administrative Code to judge the Consumptive Use Permit applications of the industry. But this piecemeal fashion of response deals with only one conflict at a time, reactively and not proactively, where the public interest awaits plans and programs which assure sustainable supplies of clean water now and for the future.

As global climate change occurs, adverse effects may well become increasingly magnified.

Withdrawals for the bottling industry complicate an already serious sustainable water supply situation.

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