LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - The state has voted to allow controversial Niagara Bottling to double the amount of water it pumps from the Florida aquifer.
Right now, the company withdraws 484,000 gallons of water per day, but Niagara wants to pump 910,000 gallons, nearly twice the amount. Many Lake County residents are against the company's proposal.
"The effect on the surrounding lakes where Niagara is drilling is devastating," one resident told WFTV.
At a meeting of the St. Johns River Water Management board, a split vote gave Niagara the go-ahead to take the additional water. Some people near the Groveland plant drove two hours to attend Tuesday's meeting.
"It's difficult. People aren't happy, we understand that," St. Johns River Water Management board chairman John Milkos said.
Niagara will now be able to take nearly 1 million gallons of water per day. Some residents told the board the public water shortages that are hitting other states like California should be a warning.
"We're not there yet. But it's not science fiction that it could happen to us," one resident said.
The fact that Niagara is based in California is part of what angered some people about the deal.
"We are limiting the use of water on an individual basis. And yet we're going to give away millions of gallons of free water to put in a bottle and ship overseas," attorney Clay Townsend said.
The company insists it will still use far less water than other companies in central Florida that manufacture juice or soft drinks. But because the bottler has been at the center of so much controversy, it hopes to improve its image.
"As more people learn about Niagara and learn about the good things we do, I think those hard feelings will melt away," Niagara spokesman Joe Kilsheimer said.