Update: Jefferson County Commission tables aquifer protection ordinance
by Jennifer Portman
Democrat senior writer
A vote on an aquifer protection ordinance intended to protect the Wacissa and other area spring-fed rivers from private bottled water operations was tabled Thursday night by the Jefferson County Commission.
A decision on the proposed ordinance, which would require any development associated with the production of bottled water be approved by a super-majority of the five-member board, was delayed to allow further comment by staff members from the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Nestle Waters North America applauded the delay. The company has prospective plans to tap the headwaters of the Wacissa as a satellite source of water for its bottling plant in Madison County and opposes the ordinance.
“We look forward to working with the Commission and the community to develop strong, science-based regulations that protect local water resources and treat all water users fairly,” companyNatural Resource Manager Kent Koptiuch said in a statement after the meeting.
Members of the grassroots group Friends of the Wacissa, which opposes any water bottling plans and supports passage of the ordinance, were upset by the vote’s postponement.
“There is no excuse to have a two-page ordinance in hand for almost two months and state you did not have time to properly review it,” group board member Rick Peffer said of the water management district’s concern.
Group treasurer Mike Mendez, who noted at least 100 people showed up to the meeting, added: “We are disappointed they didn’t take it up tonight, but we will have even more people there the next time.”
The ordinance was drafted in the wake of the water bottling giant’s plans. The company is currently monitoring four test wells drilled in the area last summer to determine if the source is suitable for its purposes.
The County Commission will take up the ordinance again at its August meeting.
Officials with Nestle Waters North America have come out against the passage of Jefferson County’s aquifer protection ordinance, which is intended to protect the Wacissa and other spring-fed rivers from private bottled water operations.
In a letter sent to county commissioners Wednesday, company Natural Resources Manager Kent Koptiuch said the proposed ordinance scheduled to be voted on at tonight’s commission meeting unfairly singles out the bottled water industry and golf courses. He said the new regulation would “do nothing to strengthen groundwater protection or encourage responsible economic development.”
If approved by the County Commission, any development associated with the production of bottled water would require the approval of four commission members, a super-majority of the five-member board. New golf courses would have to be developed in keeping with best management practices detailed in the Protecting Florida Springs Manual.
The ordinance was drafted in the wake of prospective plans by the water-bottling giant to pump water from the headwaters of the Wacissa River. The company is currently monitoring four test wells drilled in the area last summer to determine if it will proceed with efforts to tap the groundwater there to supplement its bottling operations in Madison County.
The grassroots group Friends of the Wacissa, which opposes any water bottling plans, supports passage of the ordinance. Members have urged citizens from throughout the area to contact commissioners and turn out at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex, 435 W. Walnut St., in Monticello.