Despite an unprecedented 80,000+ comments in opposition to the proposal, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has approved a permit for Nestle to increase its water withdrawal at its White Pine Springs well.
The permit approval has been nearly two years in the making, though its water bottling plant north of Grand Rapids has been controversial for much longer. It wasn’t until a settlement was reached with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in 2009 that Nestle had to put a cap on what it could withdraw from one well in Mecosta County (though the increased draw currently at hand would be in Osceola County).
Specifically, the company will now be permitted to draw 400 gallons per minute, up from 250 gallons per minute – a 60 percent increase.
Worse, a 2017 report by Bloomberg outlined how Nestle makes billions of dollars by selling bottled water but pays little for that product (not to mention the plastic bottles having their own detrimental effects on the environment). Sometimes that comes in the form of a municipal rate and other times just a nominal extraction fee, Bloomberg reported, and in Michigan, that’s a mere $200.
Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said the decision by the DEQ was “deeply disappointing and represents yet another fundamental failure by the agency to safeguard Michigan’s precious water resources.”
She continued, “Michigan’s abundant water defines who we are, and we have a responsibility to protect our water for future generations. Sadly, the DEQ chose to give the green light to a foreign company to continue pumping Michigan water virtually unchecked, hanging a ‘For Sale’ sign on Michigan’s abundant water resources. The impact of this reckless decision will be felt for generations, with negative impacts on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and streams.”
Indeed, the Great Lakes represent 84 percent of North America’s freshwater, and 21 percent of the world’s supply of freshwater.
DEQ Director Heidi Grether said in a statement on the decision to approve the permit, that “most of the (comments against) related to issues of public policy which are not, and should not be, part of an administrative permit decision. We cannot base our decisions on public opinion because department is required to follow the rule of law when making determinations.”
Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), a staunch environmentalist, ripped that notion.
“This should never have been up for debate, because the DEQ’s own Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool computer model showed this permit will threaten the health of nearby rivers and streams,” she said. “(The) decision to overrule both the computer models and public opinion is putting private profits before people, the environment and the future of our state.”
What’s Next for Nestle in Michigan?
While this particular decision may be done and over, it may not be the last time Michiganders hear about Nestle and environmental issues.
The League of Conservation Voters is keeping a close eye legislation (Senate Bills 652, 653 and 654) that would seem to mimic laws in Maine that allow folks from major corporations, including Nestle, to be part of the rules-writing process for the Michigan DEQ, as well as be part of permit application decisions and more. A manager for Nestle, Mark Dubois, received an appointment from Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage earlier this year despite criticism there over an obvious conflict of interest.
The LCV has dubbed the legislation as “The Fox Guarding the Henhouse Acts,” and has provided ways in which folks can ensure the bills do not get any further in the House (they cleared the Senate in late January).
The LCV is also watching House Bill 5638, which would allow private companies and factory farms to withdraw major amounts of Michigan water regardless of the impact to the state’s streams and wetlands.