Florida considers charging bottlers for state's water

LEE, Fla. -- In a rural North Florida town where the water tower bears the motto ''Tiny but Proud,'' residents have a big secret: They give the cold, clear spring water that bubbles up from the aquifer below their soil to the nation's largest bottled water company -- for free.

Every day, Nestle Waters of North America sucks up an estimated 500,000 gallons from Madison Blue Springs, a limestone basin one mile north of town. It pipes the 70-degree water to its massive bottling plant and distribution center, fills 102,000 plastic containers an hour, pastes on Deer Park or Zephyrhills labels, boxes it up and ships half of it out of state.

The cost to the company for the water: a one-time $150 local water permit. Like 22 other bottled water companies in Florida, including giants Coca Cola and Pepsi Co., Nestle's profit is 10 to 100 times the cost of each bottle. And the payment to Florida? Not a dime.

Gov. Charlie Crist wants to change that. He is proposing a 6-cents-a-gallon state tax on water used for commercial water-bottling purposes.

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