Known nationally as ‘The Great Lakes State,’ Michigan features the most freshwater of any state with over 40,000 square miles, a commodity that is becoming more and more precious by the year.
But with such a bounty of resources comes a responsibility to protect them, and to strike a delicate balance between utilizing them and preserving them for future generations.
In the case of Michigan, its relationship with the Swiss multi-national Nestlé has recently come under criticism from activists who say the company is abusing its rights to a private well, just over seven years after several long, hard-fought court battles (costing more than $1 million) ended in a landmark settlement that many fear is about to be, for all intents and purposes, rendered useless.
Nestlé Wants to Double Bottled Production on The Cheap
According to a recent petition from the website SumofUs.org, the Nestlé plan involves the expansion of its water-bottling lines in Mecosta County, MI — just 120 miles from Flint, where the city’s infamous water crisis is still a problem, in the city of Evart.
The plan calls for Nestlé to increase its groundwater withdrawals by more than 2 ½ times, from about 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute, at White Pine Springs Well #101 in Osceola County.
And here’s the kicker — according to a SumofUs petition and a report from The Guardian, Nestlé, the owner of the largest private water stash in the state, will pay just $200 for a a year for its massive increase in water pumping (in addition to the possible cost of a permit).
Activists Frustrated Over Alleged Nestlé Greed
Adding to the controversy is the history of the situation. The aforementioned activists responsible for the landmark settlement, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conversation, fought hard to stave off a similar pumping increase in 2009, reducing Nestlé’s rate to 218 gallons per minute from 400.
Jeff Ostahowski, VP of the MCWC, is less than thrilled with the new proposal, which may undo years of hard work protecting the local water and wildlife. The 2009 settlement his group achieved targeted four separate Nestlé owned wells in a different county, but the volume totals will be rise again if Nestlé gets its way this time and that could be a serious problem, he says.
“I’m not sure if there is a reasonable amount of water that should be allowed to be taken from an aquifer,” he said to the Detroit Free Press in this article. “But 400 gallons per minute seems more than a bit too much.”
Controversy Over Potential Favoritism
Complicating matters even further is the presence of Deb Muchmore, a lobbyist and public relations consult who has worked as Nestlé’s spokeswoman for Michigan. She is the wife of Dennis Muchmore as noted in the Free Press article, who is the former chief of staff to Governor Rick Snyder (he served in that position until last January).
Snyder of course has come under fire nationally for overseeing a switch made by his emergency manager to change the city of Flint’s water source to the Flint River, which is laced with lead and other harmful contaminants.
For these and other reasons, Snyder’s administration is not exactly seen as environmentally-friendly, and it’s just another reason why people are so skeptical of the new Nestlé plan (not to mention its chairman Peter Brabeck’s infamous, controversial comment that classifying water as a human right is an “extreme solution”).
What’s Next for Nestlé in Michigan
In Stanwood, MI in Mecosta County, where Nestlé is hoping to begin pumping additional water, a $36 million expansion of its Ice Mountain water bottling operation is expected to be completed by 2018.
The first additional water-bottling line would then begin operating next spring, and it could be the first step to more pumping in the Great Lakes State.
Now, the big question is whether or not Nestlé’s plan will be allowed to go forward — and what effect it will have on the environment if it does. Environmental impact studies so far have been mixed.
The state has already utilized its Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, an interactive online program to study the impact on wildlife and ecosystems. The new project did not pass the test, but Nestlé later asked for a site specific review looking at the geology of the area and Nestlé’s own information on stream flow, and the Department of Environmental Quality changed its mind and approved it.
The new plant receives its water supply “from diverse sources that we manage in a sustainable manner,” said Christopher Rieck, a spokesman for Nestlé Waters North America, who also defended the company’s plan to pump more water. “The increase would also allow us the ability to balance the use of our water sources to ensure long-term sustainability and support future growth.”
But activists who have fought hard against the corporate giant are far from convinced and worry about the environmental impact. They believe that Michigan’s natural resources are far more important than dollar signs.
Ostahowski took issue with what he believed was a plan to slip the controversial plan through unnoticed — which ultimately did not work out.
“Michigan citizens need to understand that part of the legacy we have is the unusual amount of fresh water we have. It’s not a given that it’s going to be around forever. With a company like Nestlé, it appears there is no end to what they think they can sell,” Ostahowski said to the Free Press.
The deadline to comment on the Nestlé increased pumping plan has been extended until Dec. 3, and people can voice their opinion by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.