Tag: Nestle

Michigan Citizens, Tribe Challenge State Permit for Nestlé’s Water Grab

By Jim Olson

I don’t mean to dampen the joy of spring in Michigan, but amidst headlines over Line 5 and unconscionable groundwater contamination from PFAS, we need to embolden our governor, our state officials, and every citizen who cares about water, justice, and the rule of law to join another battle.

We need to hoist the mast of Michiganders’ most precious resource (if you seek a water wonderland, look about you), and rally to prevent the private encroachment on our public water, health, and our communities. Private landowners have a right to reasonable use of water for the benefit of their land. But reasonable use does not mean robbing large volumes of water from the headwaters of our streams, lakes, and wetlandswater taken for free and sold elsewhere for private gain.

Collaborative effort

As I write this, Ross Hammersley, Rebecca Millican, and Bill Rastetter, lawyers for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB)are filing legal arguments before a Michigan administrative law judge who will rule on the legality of a permit that would allow a bottled water company—Nestléto sever another 210 million gallons from our watersheds without paying a penny for the privilege to sell our public water.

MCWC, the GTB, and their lawyers need your helpThis is a call to action to prevent the loss of the state’s sovereign water that is supposed to be managed by government for the benefit of citizensIf the state does not honor its paramount responsibility this way, our water and watersheds will be subordinated to private interests. It is up to citizens to join together to make sure our leaders act in the public interest.

“When the tribal signatories to the 1836 Treaty of Washington ceded title to approximately 14 million acres so that the United States could grant statehood to Michigan in 1837, the Tribes (including the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians) retained inland usufructuary rights to fish, hunt, and gather plants that are property rights protected by the United States Constitution,” explains William Rastetter, tribal attorney for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

These property rights in the fauna and flora resources dependent upon the Muskegon River tributaries and related wetlands are likely to be impacted by Nestlé’s increased water withdrawal. Because the 1836 Treaty also imposes a duty upon the State of Michigan to preserve habitat upon which treaty-reserved resources are dependent, Governor Whitmer’s administration should be reexamining the 2017 permit issued to Nestlé instead of defending the diminishment of Michigan’s water resources.

A year ago, in 2018, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under the control of the thenGovernor Snyder administration issued another permit to Nestlé, the bottled-water giant, to extract 400 gallons per minute (gpm) or 210 million gallons a year of groundwater that forms the headwaters of two coldblue-ribbon trout streams in northern Michigan. MCWC, the nonprofit organization that won the 9-year court battle against Nestléin 2009, and the Grand Traverse Band, whose tribal treaty fishing and hunting rights are protected by the constitution, filed petitions for contested cases to overturn the permit.

Our members live along the affected creeks and have standing,” writes Peggy Case, president of the MCWC board of directors. Our members statewide are also involved as we connect the dots between the privatization of the water of the commons by Nestlé in Mecosta and Osceola countiesfor profit onlywith the injustice of water shut-offs in Detroit and water poisoning in Flint, all related to attempts to privatize municipal water systems.

The hearing on the permit begins May 20 and we are in major fundraising mode to pay the attorneys for the work to prepare for this hearing. It isof courseour hope that the new Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (DEGLE) will simpldetermine that the permit was not issued within the requirements of statute and they will withdraw it. It is our contention that none of the three permits for this well were properly issued by the DEQ in accordance to law.

These cases will soon come to trial, and the results will affect all of us. Recently, the administrative law judge accelerated the trial dates by ordering the parties to file written expert testimony, exhibits, and file legal arguments over the legality of the permit. The hearing will conclude in June.

At stake in this case is nothing less than the future of who controls Michigan’s sovereign, public water Why? Because much like the way the former Snyder administration manipulated a now-dubious Line 5 tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, the Snyder regime granted Nestlé the permit for 210 million gallons a year—by twisting and ignoring the water laws of Michigan that were specifically designed to address the known harms and risks to Michigan’s cold-water streams and wetlands from bottled water operations. If the permit is left to stand, the world will know that Michigan plays fast and loose with its water laws—and the rule of law—and it asks nothing for the taking and sale of its water. If this permit is not overturned, Michigan may as well post an advertisement in Fortunemagazine: “Come and get Michigan’s pure water! It’s free.”

The Price of Water to Citizens and Profit to Private Water Marketers is a Failure of Justice

That’s right; an applicant pays an annual $200 administrative fee and one-time payment of $5,000 to defray DEQ’s expenses incurred when reviewing a bottled-water proposal. The state also charges only a nominal fee for a company in Detroit to tap into its public water supply for a few pennies, bottle it, and sell it at great markup.  Not a penny is paid to the people of Michigan for the privilege to sever and sell the state’s sovereign water. The taste of a multinational water bottler’s excessive profiteering doesn’t sit well when people in Flint reel from the lack of access to watersafe from the risk of lead poisoning, or tens of thousands of people in Detroit continue to suffer the indignity and harm to families and health from water shutoffs because they cannot afford the high price of water to meet their basic needs. The taste of water injustice in Michigan is bitter indeed. 

This Isn’t the First 210 Million Gallon a Year Permit

Before the DEQ issued the permit to Nestlé in 2018, MCWC had already established in the earlier lawsuit against Nestlé in Big Rapids that removing 400 gallons a minute of groundwater near the headwaters of a Michigan stream, wetland, and lake complex causes substantial and unlawful harm. For every gallon Nestlé pumped and piped to the Stanwood bottling plant, the headwaters lost nearly a gallon. It doesn’t take long to understand that,if you remove nearly 400 gallons per minute (gpmor 576,000 gallons a day from the headwaters of a creek that flows at the rate of 1,000 to 2,000 gpm, the flows drop by 20 to 35 percent. When flows drop, water levels drop. When water levels drop, the stream narrows, habitat changes, and the entire ecosystem and riparian and public uses, such as fishing and boating, are impaired. As a rule of thumb, in summer months, these effects can start showing up when the flows in creeks are diminished by even 10 percent.

The lessons learned from the MCWC lawsuit and appellate court decisions are important for the basic questions that will be decided by an administrative law judge and, ultimately, new DEGLE director Liesl Clark. But there’s one differenceafter the first MCWC trial in Big Rapids, Michigan amended the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA)  and the Great Lakes Preservation Act (GLPA), which added a water withdrawal law in 2008. Both of these laws contain specific provisions with more stringent standards for bottled water, largely because of what everyone learned in the earlier trial and appellate decisions:

  1. Existing and actual real-time data of flows and levels before and during pumping, and the calculation of the effects from the reduction of flows and levels from pumping groundwater near headwater streams is critical. Without calculations based on existing data of what happens to a stream when pumping occurs at different rates, the effects and impacts cannot be reasonably or accurately predicted and determined;
  2. Computer modeling with input from selected monitoring data of groundwater and stream flows and levels is not reliable without strong correlation to the calculations and effects based on actual existing data;
  3. Pumping groundwater at rates over 125 gpm from headwater areas during the drier summer months significantly reduces stream flows and the levels of streams, wetlands, and lakes, and results in substantial or unreasonable harm;
  4. Pumping at 200 gpm to 400 gpm most anytime during the year will result in similar effects, impairment, and harm.

The Snyder Administration Skipped the Special Bottled Water Permit Required by the SWDA and GLPA

Because of lessons learned through scientific and judicial scrutiny, the SWDA added Section 17 to address pumping for bottled water. A few key provisions require:

  1. If a water withdrawal totals more than 200,000 gallons a day (gpd), the applicant must comply with all of the standards for bottled water in Section 17 and Section 32723 of the GLPA;
  2. The use of existing hydrologic, hydrogeological, and environmental data or conditions to make a “reasonable determination” of harm or violations of all applicable standards in the law;
  3. Compliance with all of the standards in Section 32723, including the requirement of existing data and conditions, determining individual and cumulative impacts, and assuring no violation of riparian and public trust law and rights in a lake or stream; and
  4. No adverse resource impacts, individual and cumulative impacts from previous or nearby withdrawals; and
  5. Compliance with other laws, such as “no impairment” under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act or the “non-diminishment” standard under applicable treaties.

So, why are the MCWC and GTB contested cases before the administrative tribunal? Because we are a country and democracy founded upon the rule of law, and the former administration and Nestlémanipulated and loosely interpreted these laws in favor of Nestlé’s permit for 400 gpm or 576,000 gallons a day.

Here’s what happened:

  • Nestlé had obtained a permit to install a water well for 150 gpm or 216,000 gpd under a different law in 2001, but never placed it in production. After the effective date of the 2008 amendments, in 2009, the company applied for approval of the 2001 well for bottled water under the SWDA. But rather than require the company to submit a full application under Section 17 of the SWDA and Section 32723 of the GLPA, DEQ simply approved the water source. Nestléargued thatthe well was preexisting, but it was not, because it had never been put in production.
  • Then in 2015, Nestléwas allowed to register another 100 gpm, bringing the total to 250 gpm or 360,000 gpd, but under a different section of the law. Once again, DEQ did not require a full application and determination for bottled water production wells totaling more than 200,000 gpd under Sections 17 and 32723.
  • In 2016, Nestlé applied for another 150 gpm, totaling 400 gpm, or 400,000 gpd. And, again, the DEQ allowed the company to register and obtain a permit under a different provision, but did not require an application for bottled water under Sections 17 and 32723.

Three times Nestlé and DEQ missed or avoided the more stringent bottled water requirements under Section 17 of the SWDA and Section 32723 of the GLPA. Three strikes and you’re out, right? WrongIn late fall 2016, Garret Ellison, investigative journalist for the MLive Media Group, discovered a DEQ notice that Nestlé would receive a permit for bottled water under the SWDA. The application and supporting information had never been posted. When it was discovered that Nestlé had never filed any application or obtained any permit under Sections 17 and 32723! Public outcry forced the DEQ to advise Nestlé that it had to submit an application under these sections for bottled water production. Nestlé finallyfor the first time since the 2008 amendments to the SWDA and GLPAsubmitted an application under Sections 17 and 32723 for its bottled water well for 150 to 400 gpm. However, despite thousands of public comments, the public hearing, and scientific and legal reports showing the DEQ and Nestlé had not complied with these laws, the DEQ manipulated and parsed the application into small pieces to avoid the standards and approve the permit.

MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band are heroes for contesting the Nestlé permit. They are calling the Snyder regime’s DEQ on the carpet for turning its back on Michigan’s water laws at a time when Michigan and the Great Lakes are being eyed with envy for its lakes, streams, and groundwater. State officials didn’t follow the law; in fact, they deliberately shaved and relaxed the legal standards in favor of Nestlé so that officials could approve the permit they were going to issue in the first place.

We Have a New Governor, New Director at DEQ (now DEGLE), and New Attorney General

Thank youMCWC and Grand Traverse Band for representing all of the citizens of Michigan and taking government to task for violating our water and Great Lakes laws and the public trust. You deserve our wholehearted support. We have new leaders. Let all of us demand and make sure our new leaders and new DEGLE nullify the Nestlé permit and require full review under the rule of law, not the political marketplace. For more information and to get involved, visit the MCWC’s website www.saveMIwater.org.

Also consider contacting your elected leaders and ask them to take a stand against Nestlé: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, 517-373-3400; attorney general Dana Nessel, 517-335-7622.


Jim Olson, President and Founder

Jim Olson, President and Legal Advisor at FLOW, is a national expert on water and environmental lawOlson represented Michigan Citizens for Conservation court victory that protects Michigan streams, lakes, wetlands, fish, and riparian and public uses from removal of tributary groundwater for bottled water operations.

 

Here’s how the former Michigan DEQ manipulated and parsed the deal.

  • It considered the 2009 and 2015 approvals preexisting, even though they were not applied for or permitted under Sections 17 and 32723. That meant the DEQ didn’t review the 150 gpm and 100 gpm (total of 250 gpm) or determine it was in compliance with the adverse impacts, impairment, and other standards of the bottled water Sections 17 and 32723.
  • It considered and determined to issue the 2018 permit (totaling 400 gpm at that point) as an application for 150 gpm, and confined its impact analysis to the 150 gpm. It also did not consider the cumulative impacts of the previous 250 gpm along with the request for the final 150 gpm (400 gpm or 576,000 gpm total).
  • Then it issued the 2018 permit for 400 gpm in two parts. First, it allowed the 250 gpm based on previous approvals, even though they were not lawfully permitted under Sections 17 and 32723; second, it approved the additional 150 gpm or 400 gpm total with a requirement that Nestlé would submit monitoring and other information to comply with the existing hydrogeological and environmental conditions after the fact—even though the determination is required to be based on existing data and conditions.
  • Finally, despite the clear finding in the MCWC v. Nestlé earlier lawsuit that computer models alone were not reliable, DEQ allowed Nestlé to submit logs of flows, levels, and other measurements it used to fix the boundaries and input in the computer model, but did not require realtime calculations of flows and levels based on complete existing data and conditions to determine the effects and impacts required by Sections 17 and 32723.

Five Years after Switching the Water Source, Flint Remains a Tragedy

Photos by Devon Hains for the White Pine Press (NMC student-run newspaper), March 2016

Five years after the crisis began, some Flint residents don’t trust the water coming from their taps, even though the state has declared it safe. They continue to use bottled water for drinking, bathing, and baptizing their children. Their trust in government long ago washed down the drain.

Where bread lines formed during the Great Depression, bottled water lines formed during the height of Flint’s water crisis in 2015-2016.

“We are five years out, and we’re still not fixed. We still have ongoing issues,” Rev. Monica M. Villareal, a pastor at Salem Lutheran Church on Flint’s north side, told MLive’s Ron Fonger, who was among the first journalists out of the gate to cover the water crisis. “For our residents, we really don’t see the change. I think that in the broader community, there is frustration of not seeing more activity” to improve the water system.

Meanwhile, the state’s emergency manager law that limits power of local government and helped cause the water crisis is still on the books.

Villareal and other leaders held a press conference in front of the Flint Water Plant this morning, after which residents boarded a bus to the State Capitol in Lansing. 

A year ago the state stopped distributing bottled water to residents. In came Nestlé, the international giant that pays $200 per year to the state to suck 210 million gallons of water from mid-Michigan aquifers. Nestlé has scored a cheap PR public relations victory by distributing free bottled water to Flint residents, some of whom still pay more than $100 per month for water they don’t believe is safe to drink.

“The injustice of this situation could not be starker,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “At the same time the people of Flint are forced to drink bottled water, the state has authorized a water grab for $200 a year.”

Though national media look for heroes in the Flint water crisispeople like “Little Miss Flint” Mari Copeny, who was heralded on the TV show Good Morning  Americathe Flint water story remains an ongoing tragedy for most residents – impacting their health, homes, and hearts.

It’s a tragedy that has shone a spotlight on Michigan water issuesfrom drinking water in Flint and Detroit, to Nestlé’s bottled water heist, to the Line 5 oil pipeline under in the Straits of Mackinac.

Here’s a timeline of how the Flint water crisis unfolded:

On April 25, 2014, Flint switched its public water source from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The move was meant to be temporary. A pipeline was being built to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) which would eventually bring water from Lake Huron. The financially driven move had its roots in an effort by a state-imposed Emergency Manager to save money for the financially troubled city. Switching to the KWA was projected to save the region $200 million over 25 years.

Though the Flint River had a reputation of being less than clean, officials sought to reassure the public.

“It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, and it’s right in our backyard,”  said Mayor Dayne Walling. “This is the first step in the right direction for Flint, and we take this monumental step forward in controlling the future of our community’s most precious resource.”

In the ensuing five years, that decision has generated headlines worldwide as having poisoned an American cityone that’s majority black and where 40 percent of people live in poverty. Thirteen Flint residents have died of Legionnaire’s disease allegedly linked to the untreated water that corroded pipes and leached lead into the drinking water in people’s homes. Thousands of children were exposed to toxic lead levels: the effects on their brain development won’t be fully known for years.

Flint residents complained almost immediately of putrid yellow water in their drinking and bathing water that tasted toxic, burned their skin, and caused headaches. Detections of E. coli and coliform bacteria prompted the city to issue a boil water advisory and to increase chlorine levels. Six months after the water switch, the local General Motors auto plant announced it would stop using Flint River water, fearing corrosion in its machines.

But hamstrung by their fealty to an Emergency Manager appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the city’s response to the crisis was tragically late. The state’s response was tardier later still. A year after the watch switch, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “the city did not have corrosion control treatment in place at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.” On July 13, 201515 months after the crisis beganMDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel told Michigan Radio “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.”

It wasn’t until September 2015 that drinking water expert Dr. Marc Edwards and his Virginia Tech students drove a van to Flint on behalf of concerned residents and detected “some of the worst (lead levels) that I have seen in more than 25 years working in the field.” MDEQ’s Wurfel dismissed Edwards’ findings. Later that month Hurley Medical Center’s Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha went with public with news that the percentage of Flint children with elevated lead levels in their blood surged after the water switch. Her research was also dismissed by the MDEQ.

Flint finally issued a lead advisory on Sept. 25, 2015. Snyder’s chief of staff responded that “some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children’s exposure to lead and trying to turn it into a political football …” On Oct. 16, Flint switched back to the Detroit water supplier, but the damage to residents’ pipes, and to the drinking water supply was already done. 

On Dec. 14, 2015 (nearly 20 months after the crisis began), newly elected Flint mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency. MDEQ officials resigned by the end of the month, and in January 2016, Snyder finally issued a state of emergency for Genesee County. Snyder testified before U.S. Congress in February but sought to deflect criticism toward local and federal agencies and not just his own state officials.

Five years after the Flint water crisis began, some residents don’t trust tap water anywhere, even when they travel outside of their city. Ebonie Gipson told MLive’s Fonger about ignoring a glass of water that was presented to her recently during a meal out of state. She left it untouched.

“For me, it really clicked that I just didn’t trust drinking water any more, no matter where I was,” said Gipson. “You don’t even realize it has impacted you for so long. To this day, I still have to coach myself and say it’s OK.” 

Water is on the Ballot, Too

Now that the primary election is behind us, Michiganders will pay increasing attention to this fall’s all-important electoral choices.  FLOW is contacting the nominees for Governor, Attorney General, and northwest Michigan House and Senate seats this week to inform them of the water and public trust issues we think they should tackle.  We are looking for them to provide voters their views on these issues before the November election.

Here are the key challenges we believe the Great Lakes State faces in protecting its public trust assets:

Shut down Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac.  These antiquated 65-year-old pipelines convey almost 23 million gallons per day of petroleum products along the public bottomlands of the Straits.  They pose an unacceptable risk of a spill that could cause ecological devastation and deliver a more than $6 billion blow to Michigan’s economy.  The Legislature should amend Public Act 10 (1953) to require any utility easement authorized under this Act to reapply under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust laws governing occupancy of our public waters and bottomlands.

End Nestlé’s profiteering off public water and secure public water benefits.  At a cost of $200 per year in state fees, Nestle is making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit annually by pumping, bottling and selling groundwater that would otherwise feed wetlands and streams.  In effect, Nestle is selling back to the public its own water at a markup of more than 2000%.  The Legislature should subject all private capture and sale of municipal water and groundwater to state regulation, impose royalties to benefit public water needs, and prohibit withdrawals that have unacceptable impacts on sensitive water resources.  

Prevent and remediate Michigan’s groundwater contamination.  About 45% of Michigan’s population drinks water from groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, there are 6000 legacy groundwater contamination sites for which there is no state cleanup funding, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems, thousands of private water wells contaminated with dangerous nitrate, thousands of sites that pose a risk of indoor toxic vapor intrusion, and a staggering number of potential sites (estimated at 11,000) where groundwater is contaminated with PFAS compounds.  The Legislature should enact laws to address ongoing threats to groundwater quality and create a fund of at least $500 million to clean up legacy contamination sites.

Assure access to clean, safe, affordable water for all Michigan citizens.  It is simply wrong that in a water-abundant state, thousands of households are priced out of access to basic water services in communities like Flint and Detroit.  The Legislature should provide seed money and mandate public utility water pricing that assures all citizens can afford basic domestic water services.

We also expect them to address funding for drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure; bringing the public back into state environmental decision making; and supporting Blue Communities.  For a copy of our full list of concerns, click here.

When we cast votes in November, we should remember that more than candidates are on the ballot.  In a very real way, so are water and the public trust.


 

Water for Flint, Not for Nestlé


Flint is still dealing with the lead poisoning of residents’ drinking water. Residents of Detroit are once again experiencing water shutoffs. Ontario has the highest number of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations out of all the provinces in Canada. All the while Nestlé is allowed to pump millions of litres of water from Ontario and Michigan every day to bottle and sell for profit. 

I went to Detroit recently to meet with the Water Is Life coalition to talk about these and other water justice issues around the Great Lakes. Nearly 20 organizations gathered over two days to develop strategies to prevent the privatization and commodification of water, ensure affordable access to drinking water and sanitation, uphold Indigenous rights to water, protect the Great Lakes and implement the UN-recognized human rights to water and sanitation. 

The groups included the Council of Canadians including the Guelph chapter, Detroit People’s Water Board, Flint Democracy Defense League, Flint Rising, Chiefs of Ontario, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Story of Stuff, Wellington Water Watchers, Corporate Accountability International, Great Lakes Commons and more. The coalition has continued meeting since the Water Is Life: Strengthening a Great Lakes Commons summit in Flint last fall to coordinate work and develop collective strategies to advance the human right to water around the Great Lakes Basin. 

Nestlé’s bottled water operations in the Great Lakes Basin

In Ontario, Nestlé continues to pump up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) of water every day on expired permits from its two wells in Wellington County, Ontario. Nestle has purchased a third well in Elora and could be given the green light to pump once Ontario’s moratorium on new and expanded bottled water permits ends in January 2019. The City of Guelph has raised concerns about the impacts of Nestlé’s water takings on the municipality’s future drinking water. 

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford becoming Ontario’s new premier raises serious concerns about the protection of water from Nestlé and other bottled water companies.

Council of Canadians’ Political Director Brent Patterson has noted, “Ontario PC leader Doug Ford does not appear to have issued a policy statement on the issue of bottled-water takings, but the Toronto Star has previously reported that clients of the Ford family firm, Deco Labels & Tags, include Nestlé Canada Inc., Coca-Cola, Cara Operations and Porter Airlines.” 

Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians have been calling for a phase out of bottled water takings in Ontario. Recent surveys by both organizations have shown that the majority of people in Ontario want bottled water takings to be phased out and for water to be protected for communities. 

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) both recently filed legal challenges against the Michigan government for giving Nestlé the green light to increase its pumping from 250 gallons (946 litres) to 400 gallons (1514 litres) of water every minute. GTB have consistently raised concerns that Nestlé’s permit approvals fail to consider the GTB’s treaty rights.

Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations

Six Nations of the Grand River, downstream from Nestlé’s water takings in Ontario, and the Chiefs of Ontario have stated that First Nations have not given consent to Nestlé’s permits in Ontario.

CBC recently reported that only 9% of residents of Six Nations have clean water

In May, there were 174 Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations across Canada, with 91 DWAs in Ontario alone. Some of these First Nations have been under DWAs for 5, 10 and some even nearly 20 years and rely on bottled water as a Band-Aid solution. The Mohawks of Tyendinaga on Lake Ontario have had DWAs since 2003 and 2008. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises to end DWAs, the total number of DWAs has remained largely the same. 

Different levels of government are responsible for different areas of water management. The provincial government issues Permits to Take Water to companies like Nestle while the federal government is responsible for water on First Nations reserves. But both levels of government have continued to approve projects without free, prior and informed consent as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and governments must coordinate to respect treaty rights and implement the human right to water.

Detroit water shutoffs is a violation of the human right to water

In Detroit, the fifth round of water shutoffs began this spring. 17,000 homes were earmarked for their water to be shut off this year. Roughly 80% of Detroit residents are black. Poverty rates are also at roughly 35%. Water rates have risen in Detroit by 119 per cent in the last decade and many residents are unable to pay the high water bills. 

UN experts have made clear: “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

Council of Canadians Guelph chapter members Lin Grist and Ron East and I joined the Solidarity Saturday’s rally outside the Detroit Water Department to protest the water shutoffs. Participants at the rally connected the dots between water justice issues like Nestlé’s water takings, Flint’s water crisis, Indigenous water rights and the Detroit water shutoffs. Residents and supporters chanted, “Water for Flint, Not for Nestlé” and “Water is a human right!” 

The Detroit Water Department now shares an office with the Great Lakes Water Authority. Food and Water Watch and other groups raised concerns about the potential for privatization with the regional water authority early on.

Flint’s water crisis is not over

The poisoning of the water in Flint over the last four years has led to urgent water and public health crises. The lead has resulted in an increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages, development impacts on children and a host of serious medical conditions.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ordered the last water pods to be closed in April stating that they have restored water quality and the need for bottled water has ended.

But Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, state representatives and thousands of residents have highlighted a lack of trust and a lack of proof that the water is now safe.

Water is a human right

The corporate takeover of water by big water corporations like Nestle around the Great Lakes and the violations of the human right to water and Indigenous rights shows that access to water often falls along racial, class and other lines.

Economic globalization and unregulated market capitalism have divided the world – and the Great Lakes Basin – into rich and poor as at no time in living history and endangered the ability of the planet to sustain life. Tragically, most governments support an economic system that puts unlimited growth above the vital needs of people and the planet. 

I am heartened and energized by groups and communities around the Great Lakes as we continue to build a world that protects the human right to water and protects water for people and the planet. 


Emma is a FLOW Board Member and currently the national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, Canada’s leading social action organization that mobilizes a network of 60 chapters across the country and advocates for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. She has been with the Council since 2010 and has worked in the field of human rights and social justice for 15 years. She also holds an M.A. in Political Economy.

 

Why Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation’s Contested Case Against the Nestlé Water Permit Is Right and Necessary

plastic-water-bottles-privatization-commodidization

Permits that Harm Water and Natural Resources

Michigan officials have been busy this spring — busy handing out permits to take or destroy Michigan’s water and natural resources in violation of clear constitutional and legal mandates: A mandatory duty to protect the public’s paramount interest in our air, water, and natural resources; a duty to prevent impairment of our water, wetlands, natural resources; a public trust duty to protect our water from loss, diminishment or harm; and a duty to protect the paramount concern for public health.[1]

This is nothing new from our federal government these days, with President Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt not only gifting permits, but outright attacking Clean Air Act rules that protect our health and seek to control greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, and repealing well-designed rules that protect the waters of the United States from pollution and loss. But are Michigan’s officials–its governor, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, its attorney general—doing something similar?

Our officials in Michigan may not be as brash and openly hostile towards health, water, air, and the environment as our federal officials, but their record of indifference is just as bad if not worse, and the recent permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute or 576,000 gallons a day from the headwaters of two pristine creeks is “People’s Exhibit One.” This is why it was imperative that Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians filed contested-case petitions against the DEQ’s approval of the most recent Nestlé permit. Their petitions are spot on. Our leaders have gone from indifference to deliberate damage. Unlike federal leaders, Michigan officials don’t come right out and admit they’re anti-water or environment. They do their damage by bending and twisting the law to justify a permit, and telling the public through well-crafted media releases that they have studied the matter more extensively than ever and followed the rule of law. If citizens and organizations like MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band (or Save Mackinac Alliance, who recently filed a petition against more band-aid supports of a failed Line 5 design in the Straits) didn’t take on our officials, we’d never know what really happened, and everyone would blithely slide into summer as if everything was pure as ever. Well, it’s not.

In the last few months, Michigan officials have managed to do all of the following:

  • Issue a permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute from the headwaters of Twin and Chippewa Creeks by interpreting or relaxing the law to help Nestlé get the permit;
  • Issue another permit to Enbridge for 22 more anchors to support a failing pipeline design in the Straits of Mackinac, now totaling 150 anchors and suspending a pipeline built to lay in the lakebed 2 to 4 feet in the water column, so the line is more vulnerable to powerful currents and ship anchors than ever;
  • Approve a permit to convert a small state fish hatchery into a large commercial fish farm that diverts and discharges untreated water from the fabled AuSable River;
  • Issue a permit for 11 groundwater wells to remove 1,350 gallons a minute or about 2 million gallons of water a day, and inject it more than a mile down in the earth to mine potash, and leave it there;
  • Issue a permit for a 700-foot deep, 83-acre open pit gold mine in wetlands along the Menominee River near Iron Mountain;
  • Sign or support an agreement with Enbridge to build a new heavy tar sands tunnel 5 years from now to replace Line 5 while ignoring the legal limitation that the Great Lakes are off limits for crude oil pipelines under the lakebed just like oil and gas development, and ignoring the fact that there are obvious alternatives like adjusting in a relatively short term the capacity in the overall crude oil system that runs into Michigan, Canada, and elsewhere.

Does the DEQ or State ever deny a permit anymore? Do they ever take legal action to protect rather than defend these permits? Almost never. It’s always up to citizens and organizations like MCWC, the tribes, and citizens. It shouldn’t be this way, but with the deliberate anti-water, environment and health track record of the State, it’s reality. MCWC’s case to contest the Nestlé 400 gallons per minute (“gpm”) permit is a good example.

Last week, Governor Snyder tried to brush off a television reporter’s question about the Nestlé permit, offhandedly saying he thought the state “followed the law,” and that any “other objections like hundreds of millions of dollars to Nestle without paying a dime for the water were policy matters.” When the DEQ issued the permit, Director Heidi Grether also stated that the DEQ “followed the law,” and that the department’s review was the “most extensive in history.” That’s how it works these days, permits are issued, our state leaders hide behind a façade called the “rule of law,” “comprehensive review,” or “the most extensive review in history.” Ironically, citizens and organizations have placed the law before the Governor, Attorney General Schuette, and Director Grether on Line 5 and Nestle so these permit applications were under the “rule of law,” and these officials have done everything they can do to obstruct the rule of law. Governor Snyder skirted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and other laws with his private deal with Enbridge to rebuild Line 5. Director Grether refused clear legal standards in approving the Nestle permit. And Attorney General Schuette’s office has been behind these maneuvers at every turn.

So, is this true, or are our leaders beguiling us into thinking they’re doing their job? MCWC’s petition for contested case appears to answer the question. Here’s what MCWC’s petition shows:

Strike One

The DEQ’s permit on its face postponed the very factual determination required by the Safe Drinking Act and the Water Withdrawal Act before a permit can be approved: Does the existing hydrological data, including actual calculated effects on flows and levels before and after pumping required before a permit can be issued, show adverse impacts or impairment to public or private common law principles? The DEQ issued the permit without the existing data and conditions, relying on Nestle’s self-serving computer model, and postponed the required evaluation and finding to an after-the fact- determination.

Strike Two 

Both the Safe Drinking Water Act and Water Withdrawal Act have special sections for bottled water withdrawals that require the applicant to submit and the DEQ to evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological (soils and water), and environmental conditions. Unfortunately, all Nestlé submitted was a computer model that calibrated its own parameters to reach the conclusion that the pumping would cause no adverse impacts, and several years of intermittent measurements of flows and levels without reference to actual drops in flows or levels of the creeks and wetlands before and during pumping. The required measurements and data required to evaluate existing conditions were established by penetrating and extensive analysis of flows and levels and the effects during pumping on creeks, wetlands, and nearby lakes in the MCWC v Nestlé case in Mecosta County over a DEQ permit to pump 400 gpm. The appellate courts found unreasonable harm when the actual existing data was used to calculate the effects and adverse impacts from pumping. When it did so, the courts determined that 400 gpm from headwaters of the creek and two lakes was unlawful, that it would cause substantial harm. Nestlé and DEQ know this, yet the agency issued the permit in this case without requiring the information on existing conditions required by the law.

Strike Three

The DEQ compounded the error by limiting its after-the fact evaluation to the additional 150 gallons per minute, not the whole 400 gpm. In effect, the DEQ implicitly authorized the first 250 gpm, rubber-stamping Nestle’s 2009 Safe Drinking Water approval for the first 150 gpm, and Nestle’s 2015 registration and Safe Drinking Water approval for an additional 100 gpm. Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act requires a specific permit and determinations for any withdrawal for bottled water that exceeds 200,000 gallons per day. While Nestlé had received a well permit to pump 150 gpm or 216,000 gallons a day in 2001, our officials turned their back on Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act when Nestlé asked for final approval in 2009. When the additional 100 gpm was registered in 2015, bringing the total 250 gpm or 276,000 gallons a day, our officials turned their back again. The DEQ’s recent 2018 permit for 400 gallons a minute allowed Nestlé to avoid obtaining the permits for the 2009 and 2015 expansions required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

So there you have it: strike three, you’re out. Our state officials didn’t follow the law, and they didn’t study the legally required existing data and information– extensively studying the wrong data is meaningless. So, the answer is, our officials beguile their constituents and citizens into thinking they are “following the law” and “extensively evaluating” the information to fulfill their duty to protect the water, natural resources, public trust and health, when in fact they deliberately shaved and relaxed the legal standards in favor of Nestlé so the officials could approve the permit they were going to issue in the first place.

The die is cast. The permit is reviewed, the permit is issued, the news release sugar coats it, and the water, environment, and people’s quality of life or health are damaged or put at serious risk. In a way, this seems worse than the federal government’s blatant attack on water, environment, climate, or health. Why? Because it’s done behind closed doors with calculated manipulation of the law to achieve a deliberate result: Issue the permit even if it is likely to cause harm. At least President Trump and EPA head Pruitt acknowledge what our leaders are too afraid to admit: “We are anti-environment, anti-water, anti-health, and pro-corporation and exploitation no matter what the cost, and we intend to bend, dismantle, and repeal these laws if necessary to get our way.” Oh, really, that’s not happening here in Michigan, is it? Our leaders deliberately follow their own law, then issue the permit.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

Thank you MCWC, Grand Traverse Band, and all of those people and organizations in Michigan who take our leaders to task for violating their constitutional and public trust duties to protect the air, water, quality of life for all of us. They deserve our whole-hearted support. This is real citizenship and democracy in action. This is why contested cases and lawsuits are necessary and good for Michigan.

 


[1]These legal duties on our leaders are mandated in the order stated: Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 52; Michigan Environmental Protection Act and Supreme Court decisions, notably Ray v Mason Co Drain Comm’r, 393 Mich 294; 224 NW2d 883 (1975) and State Hwy Comm’n v Vanderkloot, 392 Mich 159; 220 NW2d 416 (1974); the common law public trust doctrine; and Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 51.


FLOW Statement on MDEQ Approval of Nestlé Water Extraction Permit

The MDEQ and the Snyder Administration have failed (again) to fulfill their public trust responsibilities as defenders of our waters.

While we are continuing to analyze the state permit and accompanying documentation, and will have a comprehensive response in the near future, some things are clear.  The DEQ issued Nestlé a permit to pump up to 400 gallons per minute, or 576,000 gallons per day, on the condition that Nestlé submit a monitoring plan and hydrogeologic measurements on flows and levels and agree to reduce pumping to 250 gallons per minute when the measurements show adverse effects.

The DEQ is going to issue the permit now and wait to make the determination of harm later.  This is not a “reasonable basis for a determination” of effects before the permit was issued, which was what the law required.

We’re disappointed that the MDEQ not only ignored the clear opposition of tens of thousands of Michigan citizens who have opposed this giveaway of publicly-owned water, but also ignored serious deficiencies in Nestlé’s application.

Michigan went down the wrong path a decade ago when it approved a law treating private capture of water and sale for profit as just another water withdrawal.  It is not.  Commercialization of public water is a betrayal of the public trust.


Restoring Respect for the Public Trust

byzantine-empire-public-land.-trusts

FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine.  What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple.  This 1500-year old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned.  Rather, this commons – like the Great Lakes — belongs to the public.  And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources.

In the coming year, we will explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday.  Today, we begin with a roundup of critical public trust issues in Michigan in 2018.

Let’s look on the bright side, rather than dwelling on past failures. In the coming year, state officials and legislators have several opportunities to full their responsibilities as trustees of public trust resources:


Line 5:  The twin pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac underwater are there only because, in 1954, the state granted the company now called Enbridge the privilege.  State government never relinquished its ownership, on behalf of the public, of these waters and submerged lands. 

In 2017, a stream of disclosures about negligence, poor pipeline stewardship, and concealment of critical information by Enbridge dramatized the risk to the public interest posed by Line 5.  The Attorney General and Governor have the opportunity to eliminate this risk by revoking the Enbridge easement and phasing out or shutting down Line 5.


Nestle: The multinational corporate giant in 2016 asked the state DEQ for an increase in its already excessive pumping of groundwater for bottling and sale.  This despite evidence that Nestle’s existing withdrawal is lowering the water levels of streams fed by this groundwater, and harming fish and fishing.  The DEQ has an opportunity to protect the public trust by denying Nestle’s permit request.


Aquaculture:  Proponents are seeking a state law authorizing the installation of factory fish farms in Great Lakes waters.  These operations, which generate large amount of fish feces and could undermine the genetics of public fisheries, do not belong in public waters.  Further, the private occupancy of public waters by fish farms and other structures is wholly inconsistent with the public trust doctrine. The Legislature has the opportunity to protect the public trust by rejecting the legislation.


These are only some of the public trust concerns at stake in Michigan and the Great Lakes this year.  FLOW will work to restore awareness of and respect for the public trust doctrine among Michigan officials, and help the public bring pressure on them to fulfill their responsibilities.


Nestlé Must Still Prove to State It Can Divert Water from Headwater Creeks

Bottled water

A Circuit Court ruling reversing Osceola Township’s denial of a zoning permit for a booster station five days before Christmas does not clear the way for Nestlé’s push for a massive increase in pumping from 150 gpm to 400 gpm (210 million gallons a year) from two headwater creeks. Nestlé must still obtain a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under two laws that prevent Nestlé from degrading water levels, fish, wildlife, habitat, and wetlands.

In June 2017, the DEQ refused to issue a permit because Nestlé failed to submit sufficient proof that its more-than-doubled removal of water would not harm the waters and the state’s paramount public interest in its natural resources. In November, 2017, a Nestlé consulting firm submitted additional information based on an addendum to its computer model. FLOW, a Great Lakes Policy Center, and other organizations, including Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, have submitted comments contesting the adequacy of Nestle’s model and supporting information. Their comments have demonstrated the model is not reliable to determine effects to headwater creeks, streams, and wetlands, and that some of the data has demonstrated adverse effects at even 150 gallons per minute.

In a related matter, Circuit Judge Susan Sniegowski released a decision on December 20, 2017 that reversed an Osecola Township zoning denial of a booster station located along a water pipeline more than a mile from the wellhead. The booster pump would increase pressure in the line to handle the large expansion. The Court ruled that Nestlé’s booster station could be located in the township’s agricultural zoning district because it qualified as an “essential public service.”

“The Court ruling is a narrow one,” said Jim Olson, noted water and land use lawyer and advisor to FLOW. “The Court ruled only that Nestlé did not have to show ‘public convenience and necessity’ in order to qualify for the ‘essential public service’ exception for its booster station in the farming district. It does not affect the continued lack of proofs needed for the state permit.”

             Jim Olson                     

Nestlé must still overcome the demands from the State, FLOW, MCWC, the Tribes, and thousands of public comments to show that the massive increase will not adversely affect and harm water and natural resources.

Nestlé lost a 9-year battle in Mecosta County when the circuit and appellate courts found that the removal of 400 gpm from a similar headwater stream system was unlawful. “Based on the experience in Mecosta, it is unreasonable for Nestlé to expect, let alone for the State to approve, an increase above 150 gpm, if at all,” Olson said. “So the booster station is largely superfluous.”


Where Did the Water Go?

Jim Maturen of Reed City is a lifelong conservationist who looked personally into the
concern that Nestle’s water withdrawals are affecting critical and sensitive trout streams.
He did it the old-fashioned way – he went out in the streams. We asked him for his
observations.


The controversy over Nestlé’s extraction of water in Osceola County has been fought in meeting rooms and offices. Is that why you went out in the field?

Yes. As a trout fisherman for 60 years and in law enforcement for 31 years, I decided to discover the facts.

Two trout streams begin from the spring that Nestlé has tapped for its water pumping. One is Chippewa Creek and the other is Twin Creek. It came to my attention that landowners on Chippewa Creek had dated photographs of a full flowing creek and then another of low water and mud flats after Nestlé began its operation. On July 17, John McLane and I began our research in the field. John is a registered surveyor who knows the area very well.

 

What did you find?

What I expected to find were full, fast running streams. What I found were still-flowing but extremely shallow streams. We were there to determine if there is sufficient temperature to support trout. As we worked downstream from the headwaters temperatures in the two streams varied from a low of 56° to a high of 65°, which is sufficient to retain trout.

 

What did you use as a baseline?

The fisheries division of the Michigan DNR conducted a research study on whirling disease in trout in both streams in July 2000. They started on Chippewa Creek 300 feet downstream from 90th Ave. in Osceola Township and went back to the culvert using shocking equipment to gather trout specimens. On July 31, John and I began stopping at sites in the DNR study to see if we could water depth sufficient to support trout. Our first stop was at Chippewa Creek at 90th Avenue, where the DNR study was conducted in 2000.

As I walked downstream from the culvert, the water was ankle deep. There was a lot of woody material in the creek, but no holes were found and no trout found. This is the exact spot where the DNR in 2000 found an abundant amount of trout, but no longer. Trout cannot survive in such shallow water.

 

That’s a big change.

Next stop was on Twin Creek at South Oak Street in Evart. This is the same area where the DNR collected 20 trout. We had difficulty accessing the same location but checked the cover just downstream. There were only about eight inches of water downstream.

Everywhere we checked, water was low. But we found Nestlé’s monitoring pipe and an additional measuring device downstream from several culverts – typically the deepest part of a stream. Was Nestle trying to distort the situation in the creeks, making the maximum depth appear to be average?

 

What’s your overall conclusion?

We spent a great deal of time examining the two creeks. It’s apparent that Nestlé’s operation is affecting the traditional flow of water to these creeks. By doing so, they have destroyed the fishery. How can Nestlé be allowed to take more water? They should be limited to 150 gallons per minute. If the streams don’t recover, then Nestlé’s operations must be terminated. I have brought these facts to the attention of the state Department of Environmental Quality. I hope they will give them the weight they deserve.

 

Any final thoughts?

Facts must be the basis of any decision making on Nestlé’s proposal to extract more water. Out in the real world where government decisions have their impact, Nestlé is already in the process of ruining sensitive and vital natural resources. They should not be allowed to do more damage.

 


Jim Maturen served with the Michigan State Police from 1957 until 1989, retiring as a
sergeant.  He served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners from 1983 until
2002. He co-founded the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in
Michigan in 1983 and co-founded the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association in
1996.

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.