(The Center Square) – During the 2020 session, Democrats filed four bills seeking to stop the state from “giving away water” and impose an excise tax on corporations making millions tapping into the state’s freshwater springs for pennies.
All four bills, including three Senate measures, did not get hearings before committees. The House proposal was never even assigned to committees.
Two of those bills are back for the 2021 legislative session that begins Tuesday in Tallahassee.
Sen. Anette Taddeo, D-Miami, has reintroduced her 2020 ‘Bottled Water Excise Tax’ bill for the 2021 legislative session as Senate Bill 652 and Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, has filed a House companion, House Bill 1237.
Both would slap a 12.5-cent per gallon tax on companies extracting water from Florida aquifers with revenues dedicated to the state’s Wastewater Treatment & Stormwater Management Revolving Loan Trust Fund, a federal-state matching grant program that finances local government sewage and stormwater infrastructure.
SB 652/HB 1237 would also require water bottlers file consumption reports, inventory water extracted from all sources and remit 90-percent of estimated taxes monthly or incur 12-percent interest on outstanding remittals, and imposed fines and potential criminal penalties for underpayment and reporting failures.
The bone of contention — that the state allows corporations to pay pennies to extract Florida water and sell it back to Floridians for dollars — has been enflamed anew this week by the Suwannee River Water Management District’s (SRWMD) approval of a $115 five-year renewal permit to draw 984,000 gallons of water daily from Ginnie Springs in north-central Florida.
“It is unconscionable that certain corporate water bottling companies exploit our state water, without paying their fair share, while all other companies who bottle water through municipalities pay for their water,” Taddeo said Thursday.
The SRWMD granted Seven Springs Water Co. the permit despite intense objections from area agricultural interests, progressive lawmakers who argue it is a “water giveaway” and environmentalists who say Ginnie Springs, fed by the Santa Fe River near High Springs in Gilchrist County, is endangered.
In 2015, the SRWMD, one of five state water management districts, determined Santa Fe flows and in nearby springs had declined below sustainable levels. A Florida Springs Institute study documented a 28-percent decline from historical flow levels.
Nevertheless, the SRWMD board determined Tuesday that the permit met the criteria for “reasonable-beneficial use,” would not interfere with any other dedicated uses of the water; and was “consistent with the public interest.”
No way is a $115 permit fee to…