Tag: groundwater

Great Lakes groups band together to challenge Nestlé and water crises in Flint and beyond

“My grandson that’s not here tonight, that’s twelve years old, he was to be an academic ambassador to go to Washington in the year 2014 and 2015. Well he was an A-B student but by the time the lead began to corrode his brain, he was no longer an A-B student. He was a D-E-F student,” said Bishop Bernadel Jefferson of her grandson, one of the thousands of children affected by the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Bishop Jefferson, who is with the Flint group CAUTION, was one of the speakers on the Friday night panel of the Water is Life: Strengthening our Great Lakes Commons this past weekend.

Bishop Jefferson has been a pastor for 27 years and an activist for 25 years. She is married with ten children and ten grandchildren. She was one of the first signers of the emergency manager lawsuitagainst Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in 2013. Her passionate talk brought tears to many eyes of the 200 people gathered at Woodside Church for the summit. At the same time her talk energized the audience. Her message of doing this work for all children and the importance of coming together reverberated among the crowd. Bishop Jefferson said of the gathering, “Tonight we make history. We did something they didn’t want us to do and that was to come together.”

Water justice for Great Lakes communities

Maude Barlow gave an important keynote speech on Friday night on water justice struggles around the world and her work with other water warriors to have the UN recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. Jim Olson from FLOW gave an impassioned talk about Nestle in Michigan and the importance of the public trust. Indigenous lawyer Holly Bird talked about her work with the legal team for Standing Rock, water law from an Indigenous perspective, that governments need to honor the relationships that Indigenous people have with the water and how that can be done without someone controlling or owning water.


(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians)

Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board, who many affectionately call Mama Lila, talked about how the water fights are racialized in Michigan. “The fight we have in Michigan is very much racialized. We need to understand that truth and we need to speak that truth. Because what is happening even as we speak in terms of how Flint and Detroit is being treated would not happen if it was a white community.” She pointed out how the crises are being condoned by the silence of white people. She took a moment to remember late activist Charity Hicks who was a leader in the fight against the shutoffs and who encouraged people to “wage love”.

(Photo right: Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board)

In Canada, the lack of clean water is also often racialized. There are routinely more than 100 drinking water advisories in First Nations, some of which have been in place for nearly two decades. At the start of her talk on Saturday, Sylvia Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation taught the audience how to say “aanii” which is “hello” in Anishinaabe. The Great Lakes region is predominantly Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatami). She talked about how Aamjiwnaang First Nation has had methylmercury in the sediments in their river for a couple of decades. Plain also talked about how the Anishinaabe have cared for the waters and land for thousands of years.

Wearing a Flint Lives Matter t-shirt, Saturday’s keynote speaker (starts at 23:00) Claire McClinton from Flint Democracy Defense League, further described the water crisis in Flint. She pointed out, “In Flint Michigan, you can buy a gallon of lead free gas, or a gallon of lead free paint, but you can’t get a gallon of lead free water from your own tap.”


(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Claire McClinton of Flint Democracy Defense League)

Marian Kramer of Highland Park Human Rights Coalition and Michigan Welfare Rights Organizationtold Saturday’s audience about her work to fight the shutoffs in Highland Park, a city within Metro Detroit where at one point half of the homes had their water shut off.

Nestle’s bottled water takings

Rob Case from Wellington Water Watchers of Ontario and Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation both talked about their grassroots organizations and the local resistance to Nestle’s bottling operations. Peggy Case pointed to the larger issue of the privatization and the commodification of water. “The dots have to be connected. We can’t just look at bottled water. The right to water is being challenged everywhere. The privatization of water is a key piece of what’s going on in Flint,” she explained. The state of Michigan is suing the city of FLint for refusing to sign a 30-year agreement that requires the city to pay for a private pipeline to Detroit that will not be used by residents. 

In Evart, Michigan, two hours northwest from Flint, Nestlé pumps more than 130 million gallons (492 million litres) of water a year from the town to bottle and sell to consumers across the state and country. Last year, the corporation applied to increase its pumping by 60 percent. Nestlé’s current pumping and proposed expansion threatens surrounding wetlands and wildlife in the region, which at the same time violates an 181-year-old treaty that requires Michigan state to protect the habitat for the Grand Traverse Band and Saginaw Chippewa tribal use.

Nestlé continues pumping up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) a day in southern Ontario despite the fact that both of its permits have expired – one permit expired in August and the other expired more than a year ago. The Ontario government is required to consult with communities on Nestlé’s bottled water applications but still has not done so. The Ontario government recently made some changes to the bottled water permitting system including a two-year moratorium on bottled water takings and increased bottled water taking fees (from $3.71 to 503.71 per million litres) but local groups and residents want more. They are calling for a phase out of bottled water takings to protect drinking water. The Council of Canadians is calling Nestle’s and other bottled water takings to be an election issue in next year’s Ontario election.

Summit speakers and participants were outraged that governments allow Nestlé and other water companies to take, control and sell water for a profit while failing to secure clean water for residents in Flint, Detroit, and many Indigenous nations.

Days before the summit, the Guardian reported that Nestle only pays an administrative fee of $200 in Michigan while Detroit resident Nicole Hill, a mother of three, has her water shut off every few months and has to pay “more than $200 a month” for water.

During the summit, participants took a pledge to boycott Nestle and single-use bottles of water. Immediately after the summit, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation announced the organization was joining the boycott. To join the boycott, click here.

NAFTA and the commodification of water

Trade agreements like NAFTA perpetuate and entrench the commodification and privatization of water. Water is defined as a “tradeable good,” “service” and “investment” in NAFTA. Water must be removed as a tradeable good, service or investment in any renegotiated NAFTA deal.

As a tradeable good, NAFTA dramatically limits a government’s ability to stop provinces and states from selling water and renders government powerless to turn off the tap. Removing water as a “service” would help protect water as an essential public service. When services are provided by private corporations, NAFTA provisions limit the involvement of the public sector. Removing water as an “investment” and excluding NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to sue governments for laws or policies that protect water. Canada has already been sued for millions of dollars for laws protecting water.

A vow to end to Nestlé water takings

Over the weekend, participants of the summit listened to these moving and inspiring presentations and participated in workshops on Blue Communities, challenging the corporate control of water, the colonial enclosure of water and more. The gathering included local and Great Lakes residents as well as water justice, Great Lakes and grassroots organizations including our Guelph and Centre-Wellington Chapters of the Council of Canadians.

One thing was clear at the end of the summit: participants were ready to take action to end to Nestlé’s bottled water takings in Great Lakes, work to have the human right to water implemented and bring water justice to all who live around the lakes.
 
To watch the videos from the summit, visit FLOW’s Facebook page.

Emma Lui's picture
Emma Lui is a FLOW board member and Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. To learn more about her and her work, please visit the Council of Canadians website.
 
 

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

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.

 

 

Groundwater – Invisible but Precious

Bob Otwell, FLOW Board of Directors
December 2016

Most of us in northern Michigan drink groundwater and use it to bathe. Outside of metro Detroit, the majority of Michigan’s public water supplies along with water in rural homes comes from groundwater. Groundwater also is used to water golf courses and supply the growing thirst of irrigated farm land. We would not have trout in our northern streams if they were not nourished during the heat of the summer by cold groundwater. This is our invisible resource.

This blog is the first in a two-part series examining groundwater; this article will provide the reader a better understanding of the physics, and the second one will examine current groundwater regulations.

Understanding Groundwater

Groundwater is simply rainfall and snowmelt that has percolated into the ground. In northern Michigan, about one third of our annual 33 inches of precipitation ends up as groundwater. The remainder runs off on the surface to lakes and streams, or is taken up by plants and is lost through evapotranspiration. In the Great Lakes Basin, abundant groundwater is stored in the layers of sand and gravel left behind by the glaciers, and in sandstone and limestone bedrock. The temperature of groundwater is generally the average annual air temperature above the ground. In northern Michigan, this means 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. This temperature cools trout streams and provides a nice cool drink in the summer, and it also helps keep small streams from freezing in the winter.

Groundwater flows naturally by gravity through permeable sands and other porous materials, and continues moving downhill until it seeps into wetlands, springs, streams, rivers or lakes. We’ve all seen groundwater percolating into a spring, or felt the cool currents on our feet while swimming in one of our clear lakes. But groundwater discharge to surface water bodies is in fact continuous throughout the bottom of the stream, lake, etc., even though we can’t see it. They are connected, and if you care about a certain babbling brook, you in fact care deeply about the groundwater that makes it what it is. Rivers and streams flow at a velocity measured in feet per second, whereas groundwater flows at a rate of feet per day. This sure and steady seepage provides the base flow that makes a perennial stream flow all year round.

Groundwater also flows unnaturally where the “downhill” direction is altered through the installation of wells and pumps. This pumping creates a “drawdown cone” around the well. If a small well is installed, there is a small blip in the groundwater table. By contrast, if a large well is placed with a large capacity pump, the groundwater table can be altered dramatically. Where there are many large wells, serious regional impacts can take place. The High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer that extends from South Dakota to Texas has been over-pumped for decades, resulting in a lowering of the groundwater table in some areas of over 150 feet. This significant drawdown forces other groundwater users to deepen their wells, increasing their costs and energy requirements. This “mining” of water has created a net loss of groundwater in the High Plains of 340 km³. What would be the effect if this volume of water was taken from Lake Michigan? If spread out over the surface area, this would reduce the lake level by 20 feet.

Large wells can also dry up springs and streams. The most vulnerable springs and streams are those near the headwaters, where flowing tributary groundwater is limited. Ironically, due to FDA requirements, this area is where bottled water companies must install their wells if they want to label the bottle “Spring Water.” Pump a gallon out of the ground in these areas and you lose a gallon in the stream.

Groundwater, springs, wetlands, rivers and lakes are all interconnected. To care about one, is to care about all. Are we taking care of our groundwater in Michigan?

To be continued next time.

Note: I have simplified the discussion above to aid in understanding. Hydrogeology is complicated by a combination of confined, unconfined and perched aquifers, separated by discontinuous layers of less permeable soils (silt, clay and glacial till). In addition, we only know for sure what we find in a soil boring at a specific location, and we must then interpolate between the borings. Our knowledge is dependent on the funds available to install multiple borings.

Fracking: It’s All About the Water

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas in Michigan is the subject of scrutiny in the recent Integrated Assessment report series from the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute.  The report confirms that the future development of tight shale formations appears to be massive and intensive in size and scope and will require unprecedented quantities of water to explore and produce these reserves.

How are oil and natural gas wells are being developed in fracking?
First a large pad is cleared, then as many as 6 or more wells are drilled on this one pad known as a “resource hub,” Then, several of these “resource hubs” are developed within close proximity to each other. Clusters of these hubs are then widely developed across townships and counties. Over the next several years, just one oil and gas company, Encana, plans to develop as many as 500 hundred wells in Kalkaska County, Michigan. Each resource hub can consume 90 to 180 millions of gallons of fresh water or more. The most recent numbers in Kalkaska County, Michigan—where fracking operations of this intense nature are underway—show that a group of these hubs in close proximity are presently using or plan to use more than 618 million gallons of water. As fracking expands in Kalkaska, reports indicate that number will be in the billions.

How will these unprecedented water withdrawals impact the groundwater and the streams and lakes within the watershed where the fracking is occurring?
The answer is no one knows. Current Michigan DNR and DEQ procedures do not measure the cumulative impact of these numerous wells and resource hubs on a local watershed and the impact on the nearby streams and lakes in that watershed. Each well permit which includes the amount of water withdrawn is approved independent of each other and does not take into account the amount of water withdrawn by the other wells on the pad and nearby hubs. It’s as if the other wells did not exist.

This is deeply concerning when put in the broader context of Michigan groundwater withdrawals. Bridge Magazine recently reported that 12 Michigan counties are already facing groundwater shortages. In light of present groundwater availability concerns, the increased consumption of groundwater for fracking operations will likely exacerbate the situation. Under current DEQ procedures for oil and gas drilling permits, there is no assurance our government can or will adequately protect our groundwater, lakes, and streams from these current and future massive water withdrawals.

What happens to all this water?
To frack the shale gas or oil reserves deep underground, these massive quantities of water are mixed with a cocktail of chemicals, many hazardous and/or known carcinogens, and sand. In Michigan, after a well is fracked, the contaminated water (“flowback”) is not treated, but is transported and disposed of in deep injection wells. What this means is that such massive quantities of water will never return to to the water cycle. We consider this a “consumptive” use of water. Other major concerns include the handling of the contaminated water. And, fracking is exempt from key federal and state regulation, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In short, these massive quantities of water are gone forever after used in the fracking process.

What can be done?
FLOW’s Chairperson, Jim Olson, and Executive Director, Liz Kirkwood, submitted comments to the Graham Institute. To strengthen water resource protections, FLOW recommends that the State of Michigan:

  • Require development plan(s) and generic or cumulative environmental impacts and alternatives as required under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) before a lease or leases and permit or permits are finally approved or denied;
  • Refine and strengthen all aspects of the Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) and require baseline hydrogeological studies and pump aquifer yield tests; and
  • Encourage cooperation between state regulations and appropriate local regulation of land use, water use, and related activities to address potential local impacts.

To learn more about FLOW’s research and recommendations, please read our Executive Summary or our Full Recommendations submitted by Olson and Kirkwood to the Graham Institute.

For more about FLOW’s work on fracking, visit flowforwater.org/fracking