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Appeals court blocks a permit for spring water

The ruling is the latest defeat for Zephyrhills Spring Water Co., in its efforts to get additional water to sell.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Another court has thrown a kink in the ongoing efforts of Zephyrhills Spring Water Co. to secure more resources to produce bottled water.

On Friday, the state's 5th District Court of Appeal said a Dunnellon businessman could not withdraw 100,000 gallons of water a day from the Rainbow River in Marion County, court records show.

Joe Priest, of Dunnellon, applied in September 1999 for a permit to withdraw water from the river. His plan was to lease a portion of his 108-acre ranch to the water company, which would use the water to produce and sell its product.

But the Marion County Commission denied Priest's request.

A court later overturned the commission's decision, and the case headed to appellate court, according to the activist Web site http://www.saveamericaswater.com.

The appellate court granted a writ of certiori on Friday agreeing with the commission's original decision that the permit not be granted.

The move is the latest court decision to stifle repeated pleas from the Zephyrhills company that it needs more sources of water to keep up with growing demand.

For instance, a unanimous decision Feb. 6 by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland upheld an earlier ruling and denied Thonotosassa rancher Robert Thomas' request to allow the water company to pump up to 1.8-million gallons per day from his Crystal Springs ranch.

That decision upheld Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson's 89-page ruling in January 2000 that said the water company and Thomas failed to provide reasonable assurances that the Hillsborough River could withstand withdrawals of up to 1.8-million gallons per day.

Crystal Springs feeds directly into the Hillsborough River, Tampa's main source of drinking water.

Thomas currently is asking for a 10-year permit that would allow him to draw up to 1.15-million gallons per day from Crystal Springs.

Southwest Florida Water Management District spokesman Michael Molligan has said that Thomas' recent request is about halfway through the application process and still being considered.

The water company, however, did get some relief recently when Swiftmud granted a request by Thomas to pump an additional 30,000 gallons of water a day from the springs.

He said the increase was needed to get the water company through its busy summer months.

- Information from Times archives was used in this report.

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