Quantcast
Food
Semakokal / iStock

Nestlé Wants to Suck Even More Water Out of Michigan

By Sami Mericle

Given that Michigan, the "Great Lakes State," is practically surrounded by water, the state sure has trouble managing its water.

Five state officials were recently charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in a public health crisis that has left the city of Flint without drinkable tap water for years following widespread lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. In another highly publicized case, during the last several years thousands of Detroit residents found their water disconnected for nonpayment in what United Nations experts deemed a violation of human rights.


The battle over fresh water has now reached Osceola Township, a town of barely 1,000 residents, where Nestlé Waters North America wants to increase its pumping of spring water from the White Pines Spring. Currently, Nestlé pumps about 250 gallons per minute from the spring; the company hopes to increase that to 400 gallons per minute—a total of 210 million gallons per year. Nestlé pays nothing for the water, which it sells in the Midwest under its Ice Mountain label.

"We live in the Great Lakes state," said David Holtz, chair of the Michigan Sierra Club. "And yet we have a community like Flint [where] residents don't have access to clean, affordable, safe drinking water. And at the same time, we're giving water away to Nestlé to sell for profit."

Nestlé's application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been met with public opposition since MLive broke the story last October. The proposed increase comes in conjunction with a $36 million expansion to Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottling plant in nearby Stanwood.

Reports commissioned by Nestlé predict no significant adverse effects on streamflow, local wetlands or aquatic habitats as a result of the increased pumping. But environmental groups contest that conclusion. They argue that neither Nestlé nor the MDEQ has considered the aggregate impacts of the company's activities at a total of seven wells in Osceola County and neighboring Mecosta County.

"These are all little nibbles, it's a cumulative impact on all our natural resources," said Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator at the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority. The organization represents five Native American nations that are worried about ecological changes caused by the water extraction. The tribes say any environmental damage will violate the 1836 treaty that gives them the right to hunt and fish in the area. Under the treaty and subsequent court-affirmed consent decrees, the state of Michigan must protect ecosystems for tribal uses like gathering medicinal plants and subsistence fishing and hunting.

Nestlé examined 17 years' worth of data from approximately 100 different monitoring locations to conclude that the increased withdrawals will have no negative environmental effects, said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resource manager at Nestlé Waters North America's Ice Mountain facility. The company began collecting data—including groundwater levels, streamflow and aquatic surveys—when the well was first constructed in 2000.

"It [the data collection] is completely unprecedented in the state of Michigan," Anderson-Vincent said. "There are thousands of wells that are permitted by the state that do not gather groundwater level data, let alone streamflow data, or conduct all the other environmental studies that we do."

Environmental advocates, however, are reluctant to trust Nestlé's self-reporting, and they are demanding that the state conduct its own independent research.

"The process we have for evaluating these permits is seriously flawed," said Holtz of the Michigan Sierra Club. "They haven't done on-site inspections and research. They relied on computer models and information from consultants hired by Nestlé. They don't really take a holistic view, an aggregate view, of all the different permits over the years that Nestlé has gotten."

A similar dispute over a well in Mecosta County resulted in a 2009 court order that required Nestlé to reduce pumping from 400 to 218 gallons per minute after the environmental group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation sued.

"Back then, there wasn't a lot of data, it was really just projections and predictions of what might happen and different opinions on that," Anderson-Vincent said. She maintains that 17 years worth of data and stricter regulations ensure that there will be no environmental degradation in this case.

Groundwater is difficult to study, largely because it's, well, underground. If the MDEQ were to conduct its own research on the watershed, as environmental groups have requested, it would take years to develop an accurate picture of how Nestlé's activity may affect the local environment.

Ice Mountain is one of Nestlé's six regional spring water brands in the U.S. It differs from Pure Life, another Nestlé brand, in that Ice Mountain is only minimally processed in order to maintain a taste characteristic of Michigan water. In contrast, water sold as Pure Life is pumped from municipal water sources all over the country, stripped of its natural minerals, and then has Nestlé's own recipe of minerals added back in so it tastes the same no matter where it originates.

The expansion of the Stanwood factory is fueled by increased consumer demand. Despite its well-known environmental burden, bottled water outsold soda for the first time last year to become the most popular beverage in the country.

Nestlé is quick to point out that it is far from the greatest consumer of water in Michigan. According to MDEQ data, it ranked 85th in state water usage in 2015, preceded by factories, mines and other industrial operations. The difference is that most of those companies eventually return extracted water to the watershed, while Nestlé ships water out of the area.

At the heart of the issue is how communities manage their natural resources. "Should we even be in the business of allowing for-profit corporations to withdraw water and export it and sell it for profit? Should that even be something we allow?" Holtz asked.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Health
Mark Doliner / CC BY-SA 2.0

110 Million Americans May Be Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Water

More than 1,500 drinking water systems across the country may be contaminated with the nonstick chemicals PFOA and PFOS, and similar fluorine-based chemicals, a new EWG analysis shows. This groundbreaking finding comes the same day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is convening a summit to address PFAS chemicals—a class of toxic chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, and that are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Fern MacDougal's stand on Pocahontas Road. Appalachians Against Pipelines

Tree-Sitters Launch 9th Aerial Blockade of Mountain Valley Pipeline

Resistance is growing against the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) designed to carry fracked gas 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.

On Monday morning, a woman named Fern MacDougal strung up a platform 30 feet in the air that is suspended by ropes tied to surrounding trees in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. G.steph.rocket / CC BY-SA 4.0

Can the Mediterranean Diet Protect You Against Air Pollution Health Risks?

Air pollution is a serious and growing public health concern. Ninety-five percent of the Earth's population breathes unsafe air, and scientists are discovering more and more health risks associated with doing so.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Increased ocean temperatures are causing Noctiluca scintillans to cause waves like these, photographed on a Japanese beach in 2017, to wash up on beaches in Mumbai. Doricono / CC BY-SA 4.0

Mumbai’s Glowing Waves a Sign of Climate Change

A recent study by Indian and U.S. scientists found that climate change might be the cause of an eerily beautiful phenomenon on Mumbai beaches, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Irma Omerhodzic

EPA Guard Shoves Reporter, Multiple News Outlets Blocked From Water Pollution Event

By Jessica Corbett

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blocked reporters from CNN, E&E News and the Associated Press from attending a summit about water pollution on Tuesday, and a security guard reportedly grabbed a journalist by the shoulders and "forcibly" shoved her out of the building.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Simulated flooding caused by a Category 3 hurricane striking Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC. NPS

National Park Service Releases Climate Report That Officials Tried to Censor

The National Parks Service (NPS) quietly released a long-delayed report that mentions humanity's role in climate change, which officials had removed in earlier drafts.

The report, published Friday without a press release or any social media activity from the parks department or Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, shows estimates of sea level change for 118 coastal national park sites and estimates of storm surge for 79 of the sites.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The Murphy oil site in West Adams, LA, sits as close as 200 feet from homes and playgrounds. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Will Gov. Brown Plug the Dangerous Hole in California’s Climate Action?

By Kelly Trout

California Gov. Jerry Brown is gearing up to host leaders from state, tribal, and local governments, business and citizens from around the world at a Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September. His goal is to "inspire deeper commitments" in support of the Paris agreement goals. He has emphasized that, on climate, "so far the response is not adequate to the challenge" and "no nation or state is doing what they should be doing."

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Launches #StrawlessSkies Campaign

As part of its worldwide push "For a Strawless Ocean," Alaska Airlines announced Monday that its 44 million yearly passengers will fly in "strawless skies."

Starting July 16, the leading U.S. airline on the 2017 Dow Jones Sustainability Index will stop distributing single-use plastic stirring straws and citrus picks in its lounges and on its domestic and international flights. It is the the first U.S. airline to do so. The non-recyclable items, which the airline distributed 22 million of last year, will be replaced with Forest Stewardship Council certified birch stirring sticks and bamboo citrus pickers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!