Water bottling permit approved despite strong local opposition

A Southwest Florida Water Management District official said Wednesday that the district plans to approve a 20-year water use permit for an Ocala company to pump nearly 500,000 gallons of water daily from two springs along County Road 470 near Sumterville.

Darrin Herbst, chief of the state Water Use Permit Bureau, announced the proposed decision in a letter to Darryl C. Lanker, manager of SWR Properties, also known as Spring Water Resources, which applied last November for the permit.

“This means anyone whose substantial interests are or may be affected by the district’s intended or proposed action may request an administrative hearing,” said Susanna Martinez Tarokh, the district’s public information officer, in an email message.

She said members of the public have 21 days to request an administrative hearing. Sixteen people who asked to be notified of the district’s action have 26 days to request a hearing, if they are notified of the proposed decision by postal mail.

Martinez Tarokh said the permit recipient is required to publish notice of the proposed permit action in a newspaper and the time limits are calculated from the date of publication.

The company requested a permit to pump 496,000 gallons of water daily from Fern Spring and an unnamed spring on a 10.5-acre site it owns.

The well normally would operate 13 hours daily and fill 80 trucks with 6,200 gallons each, according to the permit application. In peak months, it would operate around-the-clock and pump 892,000 gallons, filling 144 trucks.

The water would be sold to Azure Water of Leesburg, which supplies grocery, convenience and other stores with bottled water under several brand names.

The permit application spawned protests from Villages residents and the formation of an opposition group called Protect Our Water.

The Water Use Permit Bureau received more than 200 emails and letters, many from villagers, objecting to the project and an overflow crowd opposed to the pumping packed a March meeting of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners.

Opponents said they feared the pumping would lower aquifer water levels and cause more sinkholes in The Villages.

But an analysis submitted last month by Vivian Bielski, senior project geologist with Andreyev Engineering of St. Petersburg, said the pumping was unlikely to increase sinkholes there because of its distance from The Villages and the fact there are bodies of water closer to the community.

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