Sharing water is an increasingly contentious issue, even in water-rich Florida. This article profiles the battle between recreational users of Florida's natural springs -- including mermaids :-) -- private interests, including Nestle's spring-water bottling operation, and agriculture. "For Florida, decades of huge population growth and increased agricultural irrigation have reduced the levels of the Floridan Aquifer, an underground system of water-filled rocks that stretches 100,000 square miles and includes parts of southern Georgia and Alabama. The aquifer provides fresh water to millions of people in fast-growing cities like Jacksonville and Orlando. In northern Florida, it supplies the springs, which feed nearby rivers, like the Santa Fe River, that are popular ecotourism spots and help drive local economies. “It’s like a big Slurpee cup with about a million straws,” said Robert Knight, an environmental scientist who runs the nonprofit Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute. Dr. Knight estimates that as the demands on the aquifer have increased, average flows into the various springs have declined by more than a third. Some springs have dried up. Some coastal areas are seeing water that was once drinkable become contaminated with saltwater from the sea.
"In High Springs, the battle over water has sharply divided the small, rural community. On one side are environmentalists, who rail against the notion of a corporation using Florida’s natural resources for its own profit while adding to the problem of single-use plastic bottles. They are joined by local business owners who provide lodging, food and equipment rentals — canoes, inflatable tubes and diving gear — to the tourists who come from around the world each year to enjoy the natural springs. They are facing off against the Wray family, which has owned the popular recreational spot for generations. The Wrays argue that even the increased amount of water that will be pumped [1.15 million gallons per day] represents less than three-quarters of one percent of the water flowing into the nearby river from the springs on their property. Some family members say the real problem is overpumping by large agricultural operations. The family is joined by Nestlé, which says it is providing an essential and healthy beverage for consumers and creating well-paying jobs."
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