Acting in part on scientific evidence developed and submitted by FLOW and our expert team, the Michigan Department of Environmental has directed Swiss water-bottling giant Nestlé to reassess the likely impact on local wetlands, streams, and natural springs of its application to dramatically increase water extraction to 210 million gallons a year near Evart, northeast of Big Rapids.
The state action is an important step forward in protecting vulnerable water resources, as Nestlé Ice Mountain seeks a state permit to more than double its spring water withdrawal from the current rate of 150 gallons-per-minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from its White Pine Springs well No. 101 in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County.
“Staff have endeavored to complete their review with the information provided and, in light of input from Nestlé’s experts, have concluded that the information, analysis, data, and explanation provided does not yet provide the DEQ with a reasonable basis to make the determination if the requirements” in the law will be met, James Gamble of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wrote the company on June 21.
The DEQ requested that Nestlé provide, among other things, a revised groundwater model using improved methods to evaluate the interaction between the streams, aquifers, and wetlands and detailed water budget analyses – including sources of water and assumptions – during wet, normal and dry years.
“It shows that science and law still matter and must come before corporate schemes to turn the public’s water into a private commodity,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s president and founder, who as a Traverse City environmental attorney previously fought Nestlé in court on behalf of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The DEQ should be commended for upholding the law to its highest standard, which is to require evidence of actual impact before approving the permit.”
It is the second time the DEQ has sought more information on Nestlé's July 2016 permit application for the highly controversial proposal, which is part of the company’s $36 million planned expansion of its Ice Mountain bottling plant in Stanwood. Hundreds of people in April attended a state public hearing to oppose to permit, and tens of thousands submitted public comments in opposition.
The MDEQ is reviewing Nestle's application under Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, a regulation specific to Michigan water bottlers developed in response to environmental concerns sparked by Nestle's original Sanctuary Springs wellfield. It's the first Section 17 application to be reviewed since the law passed. The statute is tie-barred with the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which states that groundwater pumping must have no "individual or cumulative adverse resource impacts."
In reviewing Nestlé's application this spring, FLOW requested that a team of scientists – Dave Hyndman, PhD, an expert in hydrogeology, and Mark Luttenton, PhD, with expertise in stream and wetlands – review the Nestlé application.
Dr. Hyndman’s evaluation found that Nestlé’s “application does not fully evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological, or other physical and environmental conditions because: (1) Data collected between 2001 and the onset of pumping in 2009 do not appear to be used or evaluated; (2) The seven or eight years of data on the effects of pumping at 150 gpm when pumping started in 2009 have not been used or evaluated.”
Dr. Luttenton found that the information submitted and evaluated is insufficient for the MDEQ to make a determination of effects, impacts, harms, and impairment of Nestle’s proposal, including likely impacts on:
-Existing physical conditions, including upstream or in surrounding seeps and unnamed small creeks
-Wetlands and plant species
“Based on my analysis to date, my opinion is that the water withdrawal by Nestlé’s [proposal] will, or is very likely to cause environmental impacts to the surface water resources in the region,” Dr. Luttenton concluded. “In addition, my opinion is that during low flow and low water level conditions, there is inadequate water in the Chippewa Creek, Twin Creek, and other surface water features, to prevent probable impairment, degradation, or harm to the aquatic and ecological system, including fish and fish habitat.”