Via America’s Lawyer: Legal journalist Mollye Barrows joins Mike Papantonio to talk about how Nestlé is now pushing to drastically increase its extraction of freshwater from Florida waterways to over one million gallons a DAY, sending alarm bells ringing among environmental activists concerned with the growing problem of freshwater scarcity in the U.S.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             Fresh water scarcity is a growing concern across many US households. And Nestle’s managed to send alarm bells ringing among environmental activists in Florida for fighting against the company’s request to dramatically increase how much fresh water it extracts for bottling every year. I have legal journalist Mollye Barrows here to walk us through this. Mollye, exactly how much fresh water is Nestle stealing from the American public?

Mollye Barrows:                Well, they would like to steal about 1.2 million gallons a day.

Mike Papantonio:             In Florida alone.

Mollye Barrows:                In Florida alone. So yeah, as I’m looking into this, I realized that these, the complaints that environmentalists have about Nestle here are popping up all over the country, all over the world. But in this particular case, this is Ginnie Springs, Gilchrist County, Florida, and this one particular company, let’s see, what’s it called, Seven Springs. They’re the ones that actually have the permit to the wells and they’ve been working with bottled water companies for a number of years and for the past 20 years, even though their permit says they can take up to 1.2 million gallons, they’ve really traditionally only taken about a quarter of that. Well now, Nestle has asked to take the full amount and environmentalist and local activists are really upset about it because they say that studies have shown these water levels are already low. You’ve got the nearby Santa Fe river, four years ago they did some studies and they found that it’s already low. Part of the reason it’s low is because of groundwater pumping as well. You’ve got nearby agriculture sites, but in essence these Springs are starting to drop and they’re saying if we let Nestle take all this water, it’s going to cause problems for the environment.

Mike Papantonio:             Let’s, let’s distill this water.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             Here it is.

Mollye Barrows:                Boil it down.

Mike Papantonio:             Here, here’s how, here’s how we boil this water down. Nestle is taking a natural resource from Florida and not paying anything. Tax…

Mollye Barrows:                Just the $115 permit fee.

Mike Papantonio:             $115 they take, they take 1.3 million gallons of water. Nobody gets paid for it. Nestle puts it into a bottle, sells it for God knows how much of an increase. Taxpayers have to pay and this is the other part of it. Nestle, then externalizes all the risk to Florida.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             If we have a water shortage.

Mollye Barrows:                That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             If we have a problem from this, taxpayers have to pay this. They had the same problem in California, didn’t they?

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             They got, they got really hammered in California for this.

Mollye Barrows:                San Bernardino forest. I mean, this has been an ongoing thing for a long time. State regulators are saying, you’re taking this water illegally. You basically pumped it dry in a place that’s prone to forest fires. As you know, we’re handling litigation with the Woolsey fire out there, but at any rate, this has been an ongoing situation with Nestle saying we’ve got full rights to take this. 45 million gallons alone last year that they took from a drought infested area.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, well they don’t have rights if, they don’t have rights of activists get involved. Are activists getting involved in this thing right now?

Mollye Barrows:                They are, activists and state regulators in California are involved. Activists are definitely getting involved in the Ginnie Springs thing as well. In fact, there is a petition basically saying, stop Nestle from bottling Florida’s water at Ginnie Springs. Their goal is 75,000 signatures. They’ve almost got 74,000 so there’s a lot of push. There’s a lot of support against this because even though agricultural companies request larger permits than what Nestle is asking to take from Ginnie Springs, the problem is there is so much, the water levels are lowering because of groundwater pumping because of agriculture. And they see this as an opportunity to really bring to light that Florida is not managing their water properly.

Mike Papantonio:             I’m trying to understand how in the world the Florida residents have any benefit here. There’s zero benefit. So this cat comes, Seven Springs.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             Comes in, he bought the water rights, that’s all he did. It’s like an oil company going and I want to buy your mineral rights. I want to buy your oil rights in Texas. Okay.

Mollye Barrows:                Access to the well.

Mike Papantonio:             Same thing. So this, this guy owns those water rights. Now he’s saying, I’m going to, I’m going to basically sell them.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             I’m going to make a profit.

Mollye Barrows:                Off a natural resource.

Mike Papantonio:             Off a natural resource, that I’m selling now to Nestle. The taxpayer has to, has to, has to bear the brunt of that.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             Nestle pays nothing to the taxpayer, zero.

Mollye Barrows:                And it’s coming up over and over again. In Michigan, there’s complaints about the Dead River. They’ve pumped millions of gallons out of that. It’s a constant battle back and forth, legal battles in court between the state of Michigan as well as Nestle over their access to those natural resources. There’s a small town in France that’s basically saying the same thing that Nestle.

Mike Papantonio:             South America, they ran them out of part of South America. Yeah.

Mollye Barrows:                Interesting. But it’s over and over again, the same thing. How do they come in? I’m curious. I’d like to look into some more and just basically say, you know, do they get permission from, like you said, the person who has the permit or maybe the private land owner and then they basically steal what could potentially flow on to benefit everyone, like taxpayers and citizens.

Mike Papantonio:             What if your a taxpay, what if your a taxpayer living along the river that’s already projected to be affected by this? Now Nestle comes back and say what they, says what they always say, oh well, it’s only going to be a half an inch if anything over the next 10 years. So, you hear those types of…

Mollye Barrows:                That’s exactly what Seven Springs said about Ginnie Springs. They said, y’all are just worrying about nothing. We’ve done some studies and the amount they want to take, it’s only going to affect the water levels by lowering it less than an inch.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, and they say that because they’re the ones making the money. Nestle is making the money. Seven Springs who sells this Nestle is making the money, and it’s a natural resource that is owned by the commons. It’s owned by the commons, the taxpayers, and all of a sudden we ignore that like, well, that’s just not important.

Mollye Barrows:                Well, people need to check out this online petition. They need to read up on this as well.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, let’s put it up on our screen.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             So people can actually file a petition if they want to.

Mollye Barrows:                Absolutely.

Mike Papantonio:             Thanks for joining me, Mollye. Okay.

Mollye Barrows:                Thanks, Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.