Foes of water bottling permit urging residents to attend meeting

A citizen group opposed to a 20-year water pumping permit issued for an Ocala company will bring its case Tuesday to the Sumter County Board of Commissioners.

Protect Our Water is urging people concerned about the permit to attend Tuesday’s board meeting at 5 p.m. at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

The state permit was issued earlier this month to SWR Properties, also known as Spring Water Resources, to pump nearly 500,000 gallons of water daily from two springs along County Road 470 near Sumterville.

The Sumter County board has authority to approve zoning, building permits and roadway improvements needed for the pumping facility.

“All we’re doing is asking the board of commissioners to stand with the citizens of the county,” said Joe Flynn of Protect Our Water.

He said hundreds of people have signed petitions or sent letters objecting to the permit.

Several requests have been submitted to the Southwest Florida Water Management District for an administrative hearing on the permit. The deadline to request a hearing is Tuesday. A notice of the permit approval was published June 16 in the Sumter County Times.

Flynn said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has become involved in the case as the result of a request submitted through the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. He said the EPA is reviewing wetlands studies of the area.

“We don’t think the permit should have been granted,” Flynn said. “There’s been no need established except for a letter from a small bottling company in Leesburg.”

He said the bottling company, Azure Water, has indicated that it won’t be able to handle the water volume for five years.

The permit approval also comes as water demand is growing from other users, Flynn said.

He said The Villages will request a substantial increase from its 19 million gallons daily when it files for renewal of its use permit in July. More than 100 private wells are in the area of the proposed well and large residential neighborhoods are planned, including the Village of Fenney.

Flynn said his group will meet next week with representatives of the water district and Sumter County to discuss the project.

Among the recent letters of opposition was one written June 20 by Villages resident Ellen Dugan, who said the permit should be revoked.

“The application contained numerous misstatements and inaccuracies,” she wrote. “The business model was flawed. Need, demand and public interest were not shown.”

The permit allows the company 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.

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