Florida moves to charge companies who bottle state’s water

The Wacissa River (Pic by anoldent, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Florida, Democratic State Rep. Franklin Sands has filed a bill to “collect a modest fee from bottled water companies that derive extravagant profits for the privilege of pumping millions of gallons of water daily from Florida’s springs and other water bodies.” Sands’ filing of House Bill 781 comes after public criticism over water bottling giants’ current ability to extract — without charge — water for commercial purposes.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a 6-cent-per-gallon state tax on all water taken from aquifers by commercial water bottlers during his time in office, but abandoned that proposal after he was met with fierce opposition. State Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ocala, recently re-filed a bill that would impose a 6 cent surcharge on the sale of bottled water in containers smaller than 1 gallon. Though Lynn had initially filed that bill during the 2011 legislative session, it was never heard.

As written, Sands’ bill would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to monitor consumptive use permits for certain bottled water companies, impose a fee on the water extracted and provide penalties for the nonpayment of that fee. Currently, bottlers pay a one-time consumptive use permit fee of $212 to state.

The bill proposes charging a severance fee of 5 cents per gallon on water extracted. Revenues derived from H.B. 781 would be placed in a Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund to finance alternative water supply projects. According to a press release, a fiscal analysis has not yet been conducted by the Florida Legislature to provide an accurate estimate of how much the bill might raise. Environmental groups, including Friends of Wacissa, support the bill.

“Water is one of Florida’s most precious natural resources, and if corporations are going to withdraw it for a profit, then it’s only fair that they be charged for that use,” Sands in a press release.

Sands is currently the Democratic Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Water Policy.

Colorado does not charge any such fees on companies that bottle water for profit, including Nestle which last year gained approval to bottle up to 65 million gallons of water a year from springs in Chaffee County. If charged a nickel a gallon as is being proposed in Florida, such a fee would raise $3.25 million a year if the full 65 million gallons was bottled.

Chaffee County environmental activist John Graham said such a fee sounds like a pretty good idea.

“It doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to charge for water that belongs to the people and that is being depleted,” he told The Colorado Independent.

Graham said he believes such natural resources as water, gas and oil belong to the planet and to all the people on the planet and should not be privatized for the benefit of a few.

Scot Kersgaard contributed to this article.

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