Tag: Nestle

Osceola County Site Visit –  Stealing Michigan’s Invisible Resource

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

FDA Regulation Excerpts

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              April 21, 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     April 12, 2017

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

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

Cell: (570) 872-4956

 

FLOW Urges State Denial of Nestlé Corporation’s Water Grab

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Breaking news:

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

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

 

Latest news:

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

 

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

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

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

 

Learn more:

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

 

Help FLOW Fight Nestlé’s Water Grab in Michigan:

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

Nestlé resistance in the Detroit Metro Times

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

 

FLOW Letter to Michigan DEQ regarding Nestlé

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

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

Here is the letter that was submitted:

 

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

Bottled water

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

What’s At Stake

There’s a big fight brewing over water worldwide. From drought-stricken California, to Canada, to Germany and beyond, the Nestlé corporation is one of the key players in a worldwide effort to privatize our finite water resources and then sell it back to us in plastic bottles in and outside the Great Lakes Basin.

In 2009, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) ended a 10-year battle with Nestlé/Ice Mountain and won by reducing the amount of water being pumped so that nearby wetlands and streams would not be harmed in Mecosta County. The facts in the MCWC litigation demonstrate how Nestlé underestimated the harm aquifer over-pumping causes to adjacent surface waters, wetlands, fish, and aquatic life. FLOW’s founder and president, Jim Olson, represented MCWC as the lead litigator in this critical battle to safeguard our waters from privatization.

Since 2001, Swiss-owned Nestlé has removed more than 4 billion gallons of groundwater from its three Michigan wells in the Muskegon River watershed for a paltry $200 annual fee per well, according to MDEQ statistics.

Nestlé has now revived plans to more than double its pumping from 150 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm or 576,000 gallons per day (gpd) in Osceola County just north of Evart, Michigan.  Production Well PWB101, White Pine Springs Site, as it is known, is located between two cold water Muskegon River tributary creeks, Twin and Chippewa Creeks. Last winter, when Nestlé applied for this pumping increase using the state’s computer water withdrawal assessment tool, it failed. Nestle then requested and obtained a site specific review by DEQ staff that showed that only minimal declines in water levels in the summer of 2016.

If approved without full disclosure and public review, Nestlé would only create 20 new jobs, but would legally be entitled to bottle and sell nearly 500 million gallons per year of Michigan water at the Ice Mountain bottling facility in Stanwood, Michigan.

What You Can Do To Help

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

  • Urge the DEQ to oppose Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to increase its allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101), Osceola County, Michigan.
  • Demand the DEQ to set aside its January 2016 site-specific review for lack of public notice and comment;
  • Demand the DEQ complete an entirely new site specific review;
  • Demand the DEQ conduct site specific review on all permits issued to date to avoid incremental steps and registrations by Nestlé (this is in addition to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA);
  • Demand full disclosure and transparency to the public for informed decision-making.
  • Demand sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement in Nestlé’s recent request.
  • Demand the State to apply the legal standards and requirements set forth in the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, riparian reasonable use law, public trust law, Great Lakes Compact, and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Request multiple public hearings in the following locations: Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, and Traverse City.

For your reference, we have included a template letter for you to use and craft your own letter.

If you live outside Michigan, we all know that what one state does in the Great Lakes Basin, affects all. As residents in the region, we cannot afford to allow significant increases in water withdrawals without sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement.

If you live in one of the eight Great Lakes states or the provinces of Quebec and Montreal, we urge you to write your governor/premier. Ask that diversions of Great Lakes water in containers less than 5.7 gallons be added to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact.

Please think twice about drinking bottled water. Instead, insist all elected officials make clean, safe drinking water a priority. We can live without a lot of things but water is not one of them.

 

Template Letter

Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Attorney General Bill Schuette
G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor
525 West Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30212
Lansing, Michigan 48909

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

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

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

VIA Email Submission

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

 

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

I urge the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to reject Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to more than double its allowed groundwater pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101) in Osceola County, Michigan.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Nestlé has not filed its existing pumping records, and its pumping to date has violated Michigan law because it has pumped and transported water without authorizations required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the applicable Section 32723 of the state’s water law.
  1. Four hundred (400) gpm will diminish the twin creeks and wetlands, which in turn will impair and harm the water, aquatic resources, and public trust in those natural resources, contrary to Michigan law.

Despite a supplemental information request to Nestlé in February, the MDEQ still do not have sufficient information from Nestlé related to the groundwater modeling, streamflow data, fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic habitat data, as well as the company’s compliance with Michigan’s reasonable use doctrine and related water laws. Accordingly, the application as it stands now must be denied for failure to show that its proposed pumping will not harm the creeks, wetlands, streams, species, and ecosystem. In addition, Nestlé’s deficient record raises questions as to whether the company received proper authorization in 2015 to increase its pumping from 150 to 250 gpm.

Nestlé’s proposed 167 percent expansion increase request continues to put our public waters at risk. Remember that Michigan’s 12,000 year old glacial sand, gravel and clay and ancient groundwater is recharged by only 8 or 9 inches a year of precipitation – about 30 percent of an average of 32 inches a year in the form of snowfall and rain during the rainy season. The rest of the year is dry with frequent drought in the summer months such that these headwater streams and creeks simply cannot survive; pumping at Nestlé’s proposed rate is simply not sustainable, and the MDEQ should deny this request outright.

Water is public. Water is also our most precious finite resource that is the lifeblood of our economy, our health, and our way of life here in the Great Lakes Basin. Privatizing our waters for profit and export outside our watersheds is a legally-defined harm. As public trustee of our waters, the State of Michigan is legally bound, on behalf of current citizens and future generations, to protect this resource from impairment, harm, or privatization for solely private purposes. This is the law.

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

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

Sincerely,

 

 

Further Reading

“DEQ sets table for strict review of Nestle water bid” (MLive, Feb. 7, 2017)

“Where will the water go? A snapshot of recent changes in Michigan water law” (Michigan Real Property Review, Winter 2006)

“How Michigan water becomes a product inside Nestle’s Ice Mountain plant” (MLive, Dec. 8, 2016)

“Why Nestle really wants more Michigan groundwater” (MLive, Dec. 6, 2016)

“Public wasn’t adequately notified of Nestle water request, says DEQ director” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)

“Flint hits chemical company with $2.6M in fines over industrial waste” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)

“DEQ overruled computer model that flunked Nestle groundwater bid” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)

“DEQ pushes Nestle groundwater bid public review into next year” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)

The Province: B.C. should enshrine ‘public trust’ principle to protect its groundwater, says Michigan water lawyer

Read the full article in The Province here

Nestle - Laurence Gillieron, APAmid growing controversy around B.C.’s lax groundwater regulation, an American lawyer who waged a 10-year winning court battle against Nestlé is watching to see how the province modernizes its century-old Water Act.

The Province’s reports last week on Nestlé and other companies extracting B.C. groundwater without regulation caught the attention of Michigan environmental lawyer Jim Olson, who offered his views on the matter.

Olson is no stranger to these issues. In 2010, he was awarded the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice award for the decade-long court battle he waged on behalf of Michigan citizens against Nestlé.

The case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestlé began in 2000, when activists grew concerned the government was not adequately monitoring or controlling Nestlé’s water-taking practices in the region.

Representing the citizens, Olson won the case, resulting in Nestlé being ordered to reduce its water withdrawals during low-flow seasons.

Now, Olson says he’s watching B.C. But beyond the specific details of B.C.’s proposed water regulation — the price charged per million litres, the number of litres allowed, how much to allocate to different users, and so on — Olson says one vital piece of any new legislation is a broader legal concept: the public trust.

“This is true in both the United States and Canada, both states and provinces, no matter what water regime you choose … it’s going to be very important for each province to declare water a public trust,” Olson said from his law office in Michigan.

The public trust concept essentially means water is a public resource owned by the people of Canada, with the government acting as a trustee responsible for taking care of the resource.

“It’s a very important principle, even if it’s a one-paragraph declaration,” Olson said. “It would operate as a shield against unforeseen claims and unforeseen circumstances.”

Olson gives a hypothetical example: if, at some point in the future, B.C.’s water resources were depleted significantly, the government might ask a bottled water company to reduce their water takings accordingly. But without the public trust doctrine enshrined in legislation, it would be much more difficult to make that company reduce its consumption, not unlike Olson’s court case against Nestlé in Michigan.

The public trust doctrine is becoming increasingly common and established in modern water legislation, said Oliver Brandes, a water expert from the University of Victoria’s faculty of law. The legal concept is more evolved in several American states, and has been incorporated into environmental legislation in some parts of Canada, including Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Quebec.

The public trust concept acknowledges that water is different from other resources, said Brandes.

“There are certain resources that are just so special, because life depends on it,” Brandes said. “Something like oil and gas, it isn’t crucial to life. But water, you have to protect it for everybody, because if you take it away, there is no substitute.”