Tag: diversions

Osceola County Site Visit –  Stealing Michigan’s Invisible Resource

 

This article is a follow-up to my January post on “Groundwater – Invisible but Precious.”

On a recent bike tour in northern Michigan, I decided to put Evart on the itinerary and stop by the area where Nestle Waters North America is hoping to increase their taking of Michigan groundwater. Nestle would like to increase the flow in their existing production well (PW-1) from 250 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, and send the water to their water bottling plant in Mecosta County. This flow would total over 500,000 gallons per day, or 210 million gallons per year. Nestle’s cost to take this water - a $200 permit fee. This production well is located in a hydrologically sensitive area of springs and between the upper reaches of Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek.

Before my visit, I had already reviewed information provided by Nestle: topographic maps, soil borings, historical stream flow and groundwater level data, an aquifer test performed on the production well, and the predictions from a groundwater computer model their consultants produced. Hydrologists rely on this type of data and models to analyze watersheds and look at “what if” scenarios. A site visit fills in some of the gaps and details that you can’t see on a sheet of paper or on your computer screen.

This area just north of the small village of Evart is beautiful - rolling and wooded. The land is private, and mostly occupied by hunt clubs and the Spring Hill Camp. The travel was slow for me on my bike because the roads were soft gravel and hilly. A loaded touring bike (and owner) prefer flat and paved. I was able to only see the creeks where they crossed the roads, but I was able to get some sense of the hydrology and topography.

Bike touring provides lots of time to think, and my concerns with this taking of Michigan groundwater rolled around in my brain. Two primary concerns are as follows:

  1. Nestle has been pumping groundwater from this production well for over a decade and gathering data. It is unusual but very beneficial to have all of this historical data. Unfortunately, Nestle did not use the data to analyze the effects of the historic pumping on the small streams and springs near their production well PW-1, nor did they share all of the data with the public. They only used the data to develop a computer model that was then utilized to predict the impacts of an increased flow from PW-1. Computer models are far from perfect. FLOW hired its own hydrologist to review Nestle’s reports, and has pointed to several concerns and unsupported assumptions in Nestle’s work.
  2. The production well is located where it is so that Nestle can label the water “Spring Water.” Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements in fact state that “Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring.” (See excerpts from FDA regulations in Attachment 1). The difference between taking a few gpm of groundwater flowing out of a spring, and pumping hundreds of gpm from a bore hole is significant and will likely always impact the small springs and streams nearby. If a large production well is installed, one is simply drawing in groundwater from the area and the production well can be located out of the sensitive headwater areas of the watershed. For example, the City of Evart community wells are located only a few miles away from PW-1, along the Muskegon River, and are pumping virtually the same water from the same unconfined aquifer. But the potential impacts are much different – the average flow in the Muskegon river is 450,000 gpm, whereas the average flow from a gauge on Twin Creek close to PW-1 is 780 gpm. When a pumped well removes 400 gpm from an unconfined aquifer, the result is a taking of 400 gpm from the springs and streams nearby. The impact is obvious.

So whether you enjoy bottled water or not (I don’t buy it), it is clear to me that Nestle is taking too much of Michigan’s groundwater, in a precarious and sensitive location, for too small a fee. On this bike trip, I travelled along the Muskegon River from Paris to Hersey to Evart to where it crosses Highway M-61 west of Harrison. It is a big, beautiful river, from a big, beautiful watershed that drains a large chunk of Michigan. Groundwater taken close to the Muskegon River minimizes the impact to the watershed, and gets rid of the uncertainty of the computer models. This water could not be labeled Spring Water, but that may be a compromise that the citizens of Michigan would be willing to accept.

 


Bob Otwell has been a member of the FLOW board since 2013. He is the founder of Otwell Mawby PC, a Traverse City environmental consulting firm. He has degrees in Civil Engineering and has experience in groundwater and surface water hydrology, along with environmental studies and clean-up. Bob did a career switch and was the executive director of TART Trails from 2001 to 2010.

FDA Regulation Excerpts

Media Release: FLOW Urges State Rejection of Nestlé Corporation’s Bid to Increase Water Extraction

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              April 21, 2017

Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                                Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                     Office: (231) 944-1568; Cell: (570) 872-4956

Contact: James Olson, Legal Advisor                                                                         Office: (231) 944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                                                               Cell: (231) 499-8831

 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Nestlé Corporation’s bid to massively accelerate its drawdown of groundwater in Osceola County for sale as bottled water falls far short of the bar set by Michigan water law, and must be denied, FLOW said today.

In official independent scientific and legal comments as the state today closes its public comment period, FLOW said the permit application submitted by the world’s largest bottled water company lacks key information legally required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to approve the request. Impartial scientific analysis of a complete application likely would show significant harm to natural resources, according to a review of Nestlé’s submission by scientists hired by FLOW.

“The more deeply you look at this application, the more superficial it proves to be,” said James Olson, founder of FLOW, a Traverse City-based water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes and its tributaries. “Nestlé has self-servingly offered more baseless assumptions than substance in its application. They’ve put clay material to minimize effects without finding out if it’s really there. They’ve put 14 inches into their groundwater model, when it’s probably closer to 9 inches.”

Nestlé Ice Mountain is seeking a state permit to increase its spring water withdrawal from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute (gpm), or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from a well in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County, threatening public resources in the Muskegon River watershed.

“While Flint residents continue to be deprived of safe public drinking water and struggle to pay $200 a month for their home and health, the state is contemplating the giveaway to Nestlé of 200 million gallons of groundwater a year in exchange for a $200 state filing fee,” said Olson. “State regulators are required under public trust law to protect the public’s water resources for sustainable use by the public, not give it away to a private corporation for resale back to the public to which it belongs.”

FLOW legal and scientific team found that Nestlé’s application:

  • Fails to fully evaluate existing conditions. Data collected between 2001 and the onset of pumping in 2009 were not evaluated, nor were the seven years of data gathered since pumping at 150 gpm began. The data provided are insufficient for the public or the DEQ to fully assess the impacts of either past pumping or to provide an adequate baseline for identification of future harm to natural resources.
  • Lacks adequate information about the predicted effects of their requested pumping. The validity of the groundwater model predictions of the pre-pumping conditions of the system is not adequately established, nor are the predictions of effects of existing pumping within the system adequately established.
  • Neglects to consider, or provide a reasonable basis to determine, the individual and cumulative harm from pumping. The application does not address the cumulative effects of pumping at the proposed 400 gpm rate, but rather solely discusses the effects of the increase in pumping from 150 to 400 gpm.

Because of these gaps, the application skirts potentially significant environmental harm, with Nestlé failing to report:

  • Cumulative reductions of stream flows, which would exceed 15 percent in several locations, according to FLOW’s analysis.
  • Significantly reduced, seasonal wetland flooding that likely would occur and that is essential to the proper function of the natural system.
  • Increased harm to natural resources during years of low precipitation.

“If Michigan’s water withdrawal law has any meaning, the DEQ must deny the application,” Olson said.

The DEQ will close the public comment period at 5 p.m. on April 21. Written comments before the deadline can be emailed to deq-eh@michigan.gov or mailed to: MDEQ, Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division, Environmental Health Section, P.O. Box 30421, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

Nestlé’s application, supporting data and documents are posted on the DEQ website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313-399187–,00.html

To learn more about FLOW’s efforts to challenge the Nestlé permit and protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s groundwater, visit our website at www.FLOWforWater.org.

To read our Letter and Expert Report to the DEQ on Nestlé’s application, please click here.

 

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PR: FLOW Urges State Denial of Nestlé Corporation’s Water Grab

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     April 12, 2017

Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                          Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org

FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                   Office: (231) 944-1568

Cell: (570) 872-4956

 

FLOW Urges State Denial of Nestlé Corporation’s Water Grab

Public Hearing Is Tonight for Swiss Giant’s Proposal that Threatens Michigan Natural Resources, Flunks Legal Test

 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Based on law and science, the State of Michigan should reject a proposal by Nestlé Corporation to dramatically increase its pumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater a year in Osceola County, northeast of Big Rapids near Evart, for sale as bottled water under its Ice Mountain brand.

The permit application submitted by the world’s largest bottled water company – which faces a state public hearing tonight in Big Rapids – does not comply with state legal requirements, according to an analysis by FLOW’s environmental attorneys and scientific advisors. And the Swiss company’s technical support documents purporting to show little or no impact on natural resources, including headwaters streams, wetlands, and brook trout populations, are based on faulty assumptions, manipulated models, and insufficient data.

Nestlé Ice Mountain is seeking a state permit to increase its spring water withdrawal from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute, or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from a well in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County, threatening public resources in the Muskegon River watershed. Nestlé pays $200 per year in state paperwork fees to operate.

“This proposal falls well short of passing the legal test,” said James Olson, founder of FLOW, a Traverse City-based water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes and its tributaries. “Nestlé has rigged the numbers to try to justify its contention that it will not damage natural resources. The state must recognize that charade and deny the permit.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing tonight at Ferris State University on Nestle’s request to expand its groundwater pumping operations. The hearing begins at 7 p.m. at Ferris State University Center at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, and will be preceded from 4-6 p.m. by a state information session.

A review of Nestlé’s support documents by FLOW’s technical advisors found that Nestlé’s:

  • Information and evaluation of groundwater, wetlands, springs, and streams is based on an unreliable, manipulated computer model that looks narrowly at the proposed 150 gallons-per-minute pumping level increase, and not the cumulative 400 gallons-per-minute;
  • Application fails to rely on observed existing hydrology, soils, environment, and other conditions, in violation of Michigan’s water withdrawal law, which mandates evaluation of existing conditions;
  • Consultants failed to collect or use real conditions to compare to its unfounded, computer modeling predictions of no effects;
  • Model assumes more water in the natural system than exists, assumes more rain and snowfall gets into groundwater than actually occurs, used only selective monitoring for 2001-2002, and left out monitoring data from 2003 to present because it would show more negative impact to streams, wetlands, and wildlife.

“Our analysis shows there will be significant drops in water levels in wetlands, some of which will dry up for months, if not years, and will be completely altered in function and quality,” Olson said. “There will be significant drops in stream flows and levels, and this will impair aquatic resources and brook trout populations and the overall fishery of the two affected streams.”

Olson said there is no reasonable basis for the Michigan DEQ to make a determination in support of Nestlé’s application, since the state Safe Drinking Water Act requires denial if there is insufficient information. Nestlé’s failure to evaluate the full 400 gallons-per-minute it would be withdrawing fails to comply with the requirement of Michigan’s water withdrawal law. The adverse impacts on water resources violate the standards of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

“This is a fatally flawed proposal,” Olson said. “The state has no choice but to deny the application.”

The DEQ will accept written comment until 5 p.m. on April 21. Written comments can be emailed to deq-eh@michigan.gov or mailed to: MDEQ, Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division, Environmental Health Section, P.O. Box 30421, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

Nestlé’s application, supporting data and documents are posted on the DEQ website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313-399187–,00.html

To learn more about FLOW’s efforts to challenge the Nestlé permit and protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s groundwater, visit our website at www.FLOWforWater.org.

 

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Click here to view FLOW’s recent comment on the Nestlé Application.

 

 

Nestlé Permit Application Public Comment Period Extended – Comments due April 21; Public hearing April 12

Breaking news:

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has set a public hearing for April 12, 2017, and extended the public comment period until April 21, 2017, on multinational behemoth Nestlé’s bid to more than DOUBLE its groundwater pumping 210 MILLION gallons per year from a well near the headwaters of two coldwater trout streams northwest of Evart in northern Michigan’s Osceola County. 

FLOW’s seasoned team of scientists and water-law attorneys, which includes successful fighters of prior Nestlé water wars, is committed to defending our public waters, wetlands, and aquatic life, and shutting down Nestlé’s private water grab. Please learn more and join us in this fight for Michigan’s freshwater and our future:

 

Latest news:

Nestlé water public hearing will be April 12 | MLive.com http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/nestle_michigan_public_hearing.html

 

MDEQ info: Details on how to comment, attend public hearing, and access public information on Nestlé’s application and the state’s review.

MDEQ Press Release – March 2, 2017 – Nestlé Permit Application Public Comment Period Extended – Comments due April 21; Public hearing April 12 http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135–406127–,00.html

MDEQ – Nestlé Waters North America’s Submittal of a Permit Application Information Package, under Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, 1976 PA 399, as amended http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313-399187–,00.html

 

Learn more:

Visit the FLOW website to learn what you can do stop Nestlé’s thirst for Michigan’s groundwater!

 

Help FLOW Fight Nestlé’s Water Grab in Michigan:

FLOW FOR WATER’s Fundraiser https://www.crowdrise.com/help-flow-fight-nestls-water-grab/fundraiser/flowforwater

Nestlé resistance in the Detroit Metro Times

Nestlé has been aiming to pump more water out of Michigan.  Near Evart, the company is attempting to expand and greatly increase the withdrawal amount to 400 gallons per minute, which equates to 576,000 gallons per day.Michael Jackman, from the Detroit Metro Times, writes that there may be “rough water ahead” for Nestlé. Many people are unhappy with their actions. Read more here.

 

FLOW Letter to Michigan DEQ regarding Nestlé

On December 16, 2016, FLOW (For Love of Water) wrote a letter and formally requested that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) cancel its approval of Nestlé’s application to more than double its groundwater pumping for commercial water bottling from a well northwest of Evart, in Osceola County.

After conducting an independent assessment, FLOW’s environmental attorneys determined that the MDEQ made a serious legal error in January 2016, when it approved the Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé’s site-review request for increased pumping under the state Safe Drinking Water Act, but failed to require a parallel application and review under the Water Withdrawal Law.

Here is the letter that was submitted:

 

Not So Fast Nestlé: A Citizen’s Guide to Oppose Nestlé Water Grab

Bottled water

Nestlé has revived plans to more than double its pumping in Osceola County.

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

Please write an email letter to the DEQ at deq-eh@michigan.gov prior to April 21, 2017 at 5:00 p.m., and demand the following:

  • 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. 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.

 

Template Letter

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

Division Director Bryce Feighner
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
P.O. Box 30241
Lansing, MI  48909-7741

Supervisor Matt Gamble
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
Source Water Unit
P.O. Box 30241
Lansing, MI  48909-7741

VIA Email Submission

deq-eh@michigan.gov
miag@michigan.gov  
migov@exec.state.mi.us

 

Dear Governor, Attorney General, DEQ Director Grether, Division Director Feighner, and Supervisor Gamble:

I 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.    

By law, Nestlé’s proposed groundwater withdrawal must result in no “individual or cumulative adverse resource impacts,” and must be “in compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal laws as well as all legally binding regional interstate and international agreements.” Based on the following legal and technical deficiencies outlined below, the Nestlé application must be denied:

  1. Nestlé has not submitted sufficient critical information on which the DEQ can make a “reasonable determination” in accordance with the standards set forth in the applicable water laws of Michigan.
  2. The application is technically deficient because:

(a) The information and evaluation of groundwater, wetlands, springs, and streams is based on an unreliable, manipulated computer model that looks narrowly at the proposed 150 gpm pumping level increase, and not the cumulative 400 gallons-per-minute;

(b) The application fails to rely on observed existing hydrology, soils, environment, and other conditions, in violation of Michigan’s water withdrawal law, which mandates evaluation of existing conditions;

(c) Nestlé’s consultants failed to collect or use real conditions to compare to its unfounded, computer modeling predictions of no effects; and

(d) The model assumes more water in the natural system than exists, assumes more rain and snowfall gets into groundwater than actually occurs, used only selective monitoring for 2001-2002, and left out monitoring data from 2003 to present because it would show more negative impact to streams, wetlands, and wildlife.

  1. Nestlé has not filed its existing 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.
  1. 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.

Despite a supplemental information request to Nestlé in February, the MDEQ still do not have sufficient information from Nestlé 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 proposed 167 percent expansion increase request continues to put our public waters at risk. 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 deny this request outright.

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. As public trustee of our waters, the State of Michigan 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 nonprofit, FLOW (For Love of Water), intends to submit additional substantive technical and legal comments to the MDEQ related to this permit application. Based on Nestlé’s legally and technical deficient application, I urge the State of Michigan to deny this permit and to impose a statewide moratorium on any new high volume wells near headwater creeks or for bottled water until these issues are addressed. 

Thank you for fulfilling your public trust obligations to safeguard our most precious resource – water.

Sincerely,

 

 

Further Reading

“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)

Press Statement: Today’s Approval of the Waukesha Diversion Application

On behalf of FLOW (For Love of Water), Jim Olson released the following statement regarding today’s decision on the Waukesha Diversion Application.

“For better or worse, the Compact governors’ decision approving Waukesha’s diversion is done. There were a number of loose provisions that pointed to a bad precedent where a community’s water system doesn’t even straddle the Basin divide. It will all depend on the details, the amendments and conditions made part of the decision.  This remains a serious matter and as we have done so far, FLOW will dig in and evaluate these conditions and make sure they are strictly interpreted and enforced.  When it comes to the Great Lakes and the duties of government to protect their integrity, there is no room for mistakes or relaxation.  It would have been better for the public to be able to see and comment on these amendments and conditions.  For the moment, all we can do is review them after the fact. The key to this and future decisions is to make sure they meet the standards for exceptions like Waukesha’s request as a community in a straddling county.  These standards are the beacons by which the Great Lakes will be protected from diversions and exports. They must burn bright and respected.  The public trust duty of the governors to protect the integrity of these waters from one generation to the next is first and foremost.”

Waukesha’s Proposed Exemption to the Great Lakes Compact Diversion Ban

Ask any ship captain or sailor along the shores of the Great Lakes, and they will tell you how important it is to follow the rules of navigation, including honoring those lighthouse beacons and green and red channel buoys. In short, boat captains must exercise utmost caution at all times. The same is true for the eight governors of the Great Lakes States under the Great Lakes Compact, which has a narrow exemption to the supposedly iron-clad ban on diversions out of the Basin. The Compact’s provision at issue exempts communities located in Counties that straddle the basin divide. It should also be remembered that the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are held in trust under both the Compact and the common law; what this means is that  the governments as trustees have a high, solemn duty to protect the integrity of these waters, ecosystems, and public uses dependent on them.

The City of Waukesha and its water service area sits entirely outside of the Basin; its proposal to divert water is allowed only because of the Compact’s exemption to the diversion ban, and a set of strict principles that like navigational beacons or buoys are intended to keep the Compact from collapsing on a reef of potentially bad and rocky precedents. When the final decision is made on June 21 or later on Waukesha’s proposed average of 8.1 million gallons a day (mgd), the Council and Regional Body must first and foremost concentrate on the paramount responsibility toward the waters of the Great Lakes Basin, the strength of the Compact, and the interests of citizens as beneficiaries of this public trust.  Like ship captains, the Council and Regional Body must exercise utmost caution, and steer the Compact away from any reefs, even if it means further tightening the parameters of  a proposed exemption like Waukesha.

On June, 21, 2016, the Great Lakes Compact Council and Regional Body are faced with an important decision on whether Waukesha, Wisconsin – a city located entirely outside of the basin near Milwaukee—can legally divert 8.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Given the Compact’s diversion ban and limited exemption for straddling communities, this decision is not just about the needs of Waukesha, but the precedential effect it will set for future demands for Great Lakes water in light of climate change impacts, increased competition, and greater worldwide water scarcity. By navigating within the strict standards of the Compact, the Council and Reginal Body can reach the right decision. To do this, the following standards and further modifications of Waukesha’s proposal  must be kept in mind:

 

  1. Straddling Community or County

 To qualify for an exemption to the Compact’s diversion ban, a community’s water system has to straddle the Basin surface drainage boundary or sit in a county that straddles the basin.  If it does not, it cannot divert water from the Great Lakes.  A community in a straddling county can request an exemption but only if they demonstrate a clear public need, no alternative, no significant cumulative environmental impacts, and provide at its cost fully transparent monitoring, inspection, enforcement, and strong conservation measures.

 

  1. Public Need

On June 11, 2016, the Council proposed reducing Waukesha’s original proposal from 10.1 mgd to an average of 8.1 mgd, or about 19 percent less, because approximately 2 mgd of the water would have served the future growth needs to the year 2050 in communities outside Waukesha’s territory and existing public water system that currently draws groundwater from the Mississippi Basin. However, the future growth and build-out 2050 goal of Waukesha raises a basic question of whether Waukesha’s proposal serves current public needs or its goals several decades in the future. This problem is compounded by the fact that the 8.1 mgd is an average; it can go much higher during at any given time. Can the straddling community exemption turn on such a loose application of public need? The Council and Regional Body should (1) cap the diversion at the 8.1 mgd, averaged over a 30-day period, in order to avoid large swings in diversions and discharge of return treated waste water into the waters of the basin, and (2) impose a condition that requires reevaluation of the public need and other factors every five (5) years to ensure that Waukesha does not look to the Great Lakes as its only source of water before and after 2050. The exemption for straddling communities was not intended to “subsidize” the growth and development of communities and water use outside the Basin.

 

  1. Showing of No Alternatives

 Generally an alternative exists if it is feasible and reasonably prudent. The burden rests with the straddling community. In this present case, Waukesha currently meets its daily needs of 6 mgd from groundwater within the Mississippi Basin.  A court ordered the city to treat its groundwater or find another water source because of unacceptable levels of radium contamination.  In the last 15 years, groundwater tables in the region outside the basin have been steadily rising.  Given this dynamic situation and the fact that Waukesha can either treat its water or divert its water from Lake Michigan, Waukesha has alternatives that do not require 8.1 mgd or more at times from Lake Michigan. Just because one alternative is more expensive than another is not enough to reject an alternative; the cost must be prohibitive or logistics seriously difficult.  If the alternative standard is not strictly applied, others in the future will justify requests for water under the same circumstances.  Waukesha’s court-ordered water supply fix possibly provides a distinction; however, is it enough where the problem could be addressed by various alternatives that while perhaps not the preferred alternative, are feasible and not extremely difficult? The upcoming June 21 record must show that Waukesha’s alternatives to use or treat groundwater within the Mississippi Basin or to supplement water from Lake Michigan are both cost prohibitive and severely difficult. Any weaker standards will signal others outside the Great Lakes Basin that the door is ajar and available for their water needs and demands.

 

  1. Monitoring Conservation, Diversion, and Return Flows

 Waukesha’s recent modification does not sufficiently describe critical details on how Waukesha’s proposal, if properly approved, would be monitored, transparent, and enforced.  And these are essential to the Council and Regional Body’s review on June 21. For example, the parameters for monitoring inflows from Lake Michigan, water use, return wastewater discharge, flows and levels of the Root River, and other key hydrological elements and effects are not specified.  It is also not clear who can and will enforce or who will pay for it. Waukesha’s proposal should not be approved without adding clear, transparent, and enforceable measures and conditions to assure that the standards and limits of the diversion are not violated. Without clear guidance, the diversion could become slippery slope that overtime could become a basis for other communities to argue a lack of overall concern in protecting the Compact’s ban on diversions.

 

  1. Waste Water Return Flow to Root River and Lake Michigan

 The Compact mandates a determination that there will be no significant impacts from an exemption for a straddling community diversion to the environment, including cumulative impacts. The record of the proposal to date emphasizes consideration of the impacts of the proposed diversion, but does little to support a finding that there will be no significant effects or impacts from the average of 8.1 mgd discharge of treated wastewater to the Root River that flows to Racine, Wisconsin and into Lake Michigan. Currently, wastewater from Waukesha’s sewage waste water is returned to water courses within the Mississippi Basin, with no effects on the waters of the Great Lakes.  The return flow requirement, which is a necessary condition to any diversion of Great Lakes water to a straddling community, could significantly increase flows and levels of the Root River and downstream communities like Racine.

Racine and the river and ecosystem are part of the waters of the Basin protected by the Compact as the Great Lakes themselves. A straddling community proposal like Waukesha’s must determine that there will be no significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts from return flows into waters of the Basin. The Compact covers all “waters of the Basin.” A smaller river or community, or land and adjacent ecosystems cannot be ignored or sacrificed any more than the Great Lakes. Waukesha’s proposal therefore should not be approved until it has been shown that the return treated waste water will not adversely and significantly affect and impact the river, its ecosystem, and downstream communities like Racine.  The Council and Regional Body should set a high bar for what must be shown to satisfy the impact standard; as described above, this should also include stringent baseline study, monitoring, accountability, and enforcement.

The Great Lakes Compact Council and Regional Body must exercise utmost caution in interpreting and applying the standards for any community to obtain approval of a diversion within the narrow straddling community exemption to the diversion ban.  Based on the Compact and common law principles, the Great Lakes and Basin waters are held by the states in trust.  As trustees, the states have a solemn duty to protect these waters and their private and public use and enjoyment.  This means that each standard in the Compact must be cautiously applied so that there is no room for misinterpretation or unintended bad precedent in the future that would weaken the Compact.  Just like ship captains, when it comes to the Great Lakes, there is no room for error.

FLOW Submits Comments on the Waukesha Diversion Application

 

FLOW Calls on Regional Body and Michigan Uphold Diversion Ban, to Reject Application

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Failing to meet strict standards or demonstrate a public need, a Wisconsin city’s precedent-setting request to divert as much as 16 million gallons a day of Lake Michigan water outside the basin that drains back into the Great Lakes should be rejected by the Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the governors of all eight Great Lakes states, according to comments filed today by FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

Permitting the city of Waukesha to remove Lake Michigan water could jeopardize the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement signed by all eight states and enacted into state and federal law in 2008 that bans nearly all diversions to safeguard and protect the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin, FLOW said in comments submitted on the final day of Michigan’s public comment period on the diversion application.

“There is no surplus of water in the Great Lakes Basin to divert, and climate change and other factors have already pushed water levels and algal blooms to the limits,” said Jim Olson, President of FLOW and a renowned water rights attorney. “Based on our review and analysis, one problem with the request is that several communities outside the Basin in Waukesha County already have adequate water and don’t need it. The other problem is that the amount of water that would be diverted is based on indefinite and uncertain assumptions that at the end of the day are to support a build-out of sprawl and development in 2050.”

“The law is also clear, given the recognized public trust limitations on diversions and sale of water from the Great Lakes, that there must be a public purpose and need that enhances or is related to the protection of the public trust waters and uses in the Basin,” said Olson. “Waukesha’s application fails to satisfy the law.”

According to the Compact, this first-ever application for an exception to the diversion ban can proceed only with approval by all eight Great Lakes states, with input from the two neighboring Canadian provinces. Any state may veto the request. The governors have until March 14 to review the city of Waukesha’s application and will vote on May 23 in Chicago whether to approve or deny it at a meeting of the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council.

Waukesha is under a State of Wisconsin court order to address unacceptable levels of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element and carcinogen, in its current groundwater supply of drinking water. Because Waukesha is located in a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin, it may apply for an exception to divert water under the Great Lakes Compact.

According to FLOW’s comments, the city of Waukesha’s application submitted January 7, 2016, to divert 10 to 16 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan near Milwaukee to several Waukesha County communities that are located outside the Great Lake Basin, is deficient because it:

  1. Fails to meet the Great Lakes Compact’s “straddling counties” standard that allows a community outside the Great Lakes Basin to apply for a diversion if located in a county straddling the Basin. The proposed diversion to Waukesha is not just for the city or its current water supply, which is the “community within the straddling county.” Rather it is for a proposed public water supply based on the 2002 planning document for a sewage district service area. The city of Waukesha makes up only about one-half of the “service area,” which includes almost all of southeast Waukesha County, one third of the lower northeast, and parts of the northwest and southwest areas of the county. Any location within this service area may request water from Waukesha. The towns and rural areas are included because of Wisconsin law, and do not comply with the narrower language of the exception in the Compact. For example, the “public water supply service area” or “public sewer plan service area” managing or ownership entities are not a “community” such as a municipality or its “equivalent,” and, therefore, the water will not be used solely by the “community” within a straddling county, as the Compact requires.
  2. Fails to demonstrate a present public need, while wrongly taking into account future growth. There is no current plan for a public water supply system or demonstrated present need or showing of inadequate potable water in several towns and rural areas that have been added to the proposal. The service area submitted for the proposed exception in this case is based on a 14-year-old plan for a sewage waste system, and an 8-year-old water quality management plan for the sewage waste system. The sewage plan is based on Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission documents, which in turn are premised on future development or build-out by 2050. If Lake Michigan waters are diverted out of the Basin to spur future growth and development, other communities or others outside the Basin will demand equal treatment, imperiling the Great Lakes ecosystem. Moreover, as described above, the service area is based on an old sewage system service area plan, not water; and the sewage plan is speculative because it has not been funded or implemented.

“Under the Compact, there can be no exception to the diversion ban unless the communities truly straddle the boundary, lack adequate water, and demonstrate a clear current need,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “There is nothing current about plans to build and grow communities 30 years from now.”

  1. Fails to show that there are no reasonable alternatives to diverting Great Lakes water. The Compact requires the city of Waukesha as the applicant to show that “there is no reasonable water supply alternative” to the diversion from Lake Michigan. Reasonable water supply alternatives, however, do exist for Waukesha’s proposed service area, even with the assumed full build-out. Generally all of the alternatives would provide treated potable water within an acceptable range of costs, safety and health regulations and impacts, especially taking into account local adjustments to minimize hydrological effects on wetlands and streams – without a loss or diversion of waters out of the Great Lakes Basin or negative precedence for future requests for diversions or challenges to the diversion ban itself.
  2. Fails to satisfy substantial limitations imposed by public trust and riparian law, which have significant implications for future transfers, diversions or the sale of water in the Great Lakes Basin.

FLOW’s comments submitted to MDEQ and the Regional Body on the application by the city of Waukesha to divert Great Lakes water are available for download here.