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What’s At Stake
There’s a big fight brewing over water worldwide. From drought-stricken California, to Canada, to Germany and beyond, the Nestlé corporation is one of the key players in a worldwide effort to privatize our finite water resources and then sell it back to us in plastic bottles in and outside the Great Lakes Basin.
In 2009, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) ended a 10-year battle with Nestlé/Ice Mountain and won by reducing the amount of water being pumped so that nearby wetlands and streams would not be harmed in Mecosta County. The facts in the MCWC litigation demonstrate how Nestlé underestimated the harm aquifer over-pumping causes to adjacent surface waters, wetlands, fish, and aquatic life. FLOW’s founder and president, Jim Olson, represented MCWC as the lead litigator in this critical battle to safeguard our waters from privatization.
Since 2001, Swiss-owned Nestlé has removed more than 4 billion gallons of groundwater from its three Michigan wells in the Muskegon River watershed for a paltry $200 annual fee per well, according to MDEQ statistics.
Nestlé has now revived plans to more than double its pumping from 150 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm or 576,000 gallons per day (gpd) in Osceola County just north of Evart, Michigan. Production Well PWB101, White Pine Springs Site, as it is known, is located between two cold water Muskegon River tributary creeks, Twin and Chippewa Creeks. Last winter, when Nestlé applied for this pumping increase using the state’s computer water withdrawal assessment tool, it failed. Nestle then requested and obtained a site specific review by DEQ staff that showed that only minimal declines in water levels in the summer of 2016.
If approved without full disclosure and public review, Nestlé would only create 20 new jobs, but would legally be entitled to bottle and sell nearly 500 million gallons per year of Michigan water at the Ice Mountain bottling facility in Stanwood, Michigan.
What You Can Do To Help
- Urge the DEQ to oppose Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to increase its allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101), Osceola County, Michigan.
- Demand the DEQ to set aside its January 2016 site-specific review for lack of public notice and comment;
- Demand the DEQ complete an entirely new site specific review;
- Demand the DEQ conduct site specific review on all permits issued to date to avoid incremental steps and registrations by Nestlé (this is in addition to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA);
- Demand full disclosure and transparency to the public for informed decision-making.
- Demand sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement in Nestlé’s recent request.
- Demand the State to apply the legal standards and requirements set forth in the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, riparian reasonable use law, public trust law, Great Lakes Compact, and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Request multiple public hearings in the following locations: Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, and Traverse City.
For your reference, we have included a template letter for you to use and craft your own letter.
If you live outside Michigan, we all know that what one state does in the Great Lakes Basin, affects all. As residents in the region, we cannot afford to allow significant increases in water withdrawals without sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement.
If you live in one of the eight Great Lakes states or the provinces of Quebec and Montreal, we urge you to write your governor/premier prior to the upcoming Compact Council meeting to be held in Columbus, OH on December 8th. Ask that diversions of Great Lakes water in containers less than 5.7 gallons be added to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact.
Please think twice about drinking bottled water. Instead, insist all elected officials make clean, safe drinking water a priority. We can live without a lot of things but water is not one of them.
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Attorney General Bill Schuette
G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor
525 West Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30212
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Director Heidi Grether
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
P.O. Box 30241
Lansing, MI 48909-7741
Dear Governor, Attorney General and Director Grether:
I am writing to urge the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to reject Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to more than double its allowed groundwater pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101) in Osceola County, Michigan.
The Nestlé application must be denied for the following reasons:
Nestlé has not submitted sufficient critical information on which a determination can be in accordance with the standards set forth in the applicable water laws of Michigan;
the application is administratively and substantively deficient;
the MDEQ and the State do not have sufficient information and have not posted sufficient information from Nestlé for property owners, communities, organizations, and citizens to provide meaningful comment as required by applicable laws and regulations;
Nestlé has not filed its pumping records, and its pumping to date has violated Michigan law because it has pumped and transported water without authorizations required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the applicable Section 32723 of the state’s water law;
Four hundred (400) gpm will diminish the twin creeks and wetlands, which in turn will impair and harm the water, aquatic resources, and public trust in those natural resources, contrary to Michigan law.
With less than two weeks before the end of the public comment period, the MDEQ sent a letter dated February 14, 2017 to Nestlé that underscores the significant and considerable deficiencies in the record. Missing from the record is information related to the groundwater modeling, streamflow data, fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic habitat data, as well as the company’s compliance with Michigan’s reasonable use doctrine and related water laws.
Accordingly, the application as it stands now must be denied for failure to show that its proposed pumping will not harm the creeks, wetlands, streams, species and ecosystem. In addition, Nestlé’s deficient record raises questions as to whether the company received proper authorization in 2015 to increase its pumping from 150 to 250 gpm.
Nestlé’s current expansion request continues to put our public waters at risk because the public does not have adequate information to evaluate the potential harm to our waters. Therefore, at a minimum, the MDEQ should extend the public comment period from March 3 to at least another 60 days (depending on Nestle’s submission of additional information), because of the incomplete administrative and substantive record. This extended timeframe will afford the public adequate time to evaluate and comment on a complete application per the department’s letter. Public comment must include not only written comment, but also statewide public hearings in Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, and Traverse City.
Nestle’s request is not just a mere isolated groundwater pumping application. Rather, it represents, and must be understood as, part of a much larger water decision for our Great Lake state of Michigan to address. The reality is that 400 gpm (210 million gallons a year) is gone forever from the headwaters of two streams for the marketing convenience of Nestle to put “spring water” on its labels.
This is an ecological disaster that should not be allowed. Remember that Michigan’s 12,000 year old glacial sand, gravel and clay and ancient groundwater is recharged by only 8 or 9 inches a year of precipitation – about 30 percent of an average of 32 inches a year in the form of snowfall and rain during the rainy season. The rest of the year is dry with frequent drought in the summer months such that these headwater streams and creeks simply cannot survive; pumping at Nestlé’s proposed rate is simply not sustainable, and the MDEQ should either deny this outright or put a cap on it of 150 gpm to end the matter.
Water is public. Water is also our most precious finite resource that is the lifeblood of our economy, our health, and our way of life here in the Great Lakes Basin. Privatizing our waters for profit and export outside our watersheds is a legally-defined harm. The State of Michigan as trustee is legally bound, on behalf of current citizens and future generations, to protect this resource from impairment, harm, or privatization for solely private purposes. This is the law.
The question we must ask is: How do the people of Michigan benefit when nearly 500 million gallons per year of our water—one of the planet’s scarcest and finite resources—is given essentially free to a foreign-owned company, sold for a profit, and transported out of the state?
Save for a handful of jobs (20 to be exact) this use of our public waters is not only contrary to law- it simply doesn’t make sense. It is time to put an end to allowing large corporate captures and takings of our interconnected groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, and Great Lakes, especially when Nestle gets it for free, and sends the profits back to Switzerland.
The nonprofit, FLOW (For Love of Water), intends to submit additional substantive technical and legal comments to the MDEQ related to this permit application.
Thank you for fulfilling your public trust obligations to safeguard our most precious resource – water.
“DEQ sets table for strict review of Nestle water bid” (MLive, Feb. 7, 2017)
“Where will the water go? A snapshot of recent changes in Michigan water law” (Michigan Real Property Review, Winter 2006)
“How Michigan water becomes a product inside Nestle’s Ice Mountain plant” (MLive, Dec. 8, 2016)
“Why Nestle really wants more Michigan groundwater” (MLive, Dec. 6, 2016)
“Public wasn’t adequately notified of Nestle water request, says DEQ director” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)
“Flint hits chemical company with $2.6M in fines over industrial waste” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)
“DEQ overruled computer model that flunked Nestle groundwater bid” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)
“DEQ pushes Nestle groundwater bid public review into next year” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)