With Plans to Pump Out Even More ‘H-2-0,’ is Nestlé Plundering the Groundwater of Michigan?

By Awakening News staff

HOLT, Mich. – Two candidates nominated for Michigan’s governorship under the U.S. Taxpayers Party banner expressed serious concerns about groundwater issues at a party convention July 14.

The convention was covered by the Awakening News as part of its ongoing effort to assess the impact of open-system fish hatcheries, corporate water-bottlers, drought, fracking and other stresses on groundwater supplies.

There’s a growing awareness that the general failure of governments to assign a logical value to (and appreciation for) public freshwater supplies, particularly groundwater, is leading to widespread privatization of water systems—especially when governments succumb to corporate demands and allow the taking of groundwater from underneath the public’s feet so that untold millions of bottles of water can be sold right back to the public, at an enormous profit. Moreover, discarded plastic water bottles have become a chief pollution factor in terms of massive litter in recent years.

As for the above-named candidates, Todd Schleiger, who received the Taxpayer Party’s nod for governor, and Earl Lackie, nominated for lieutenant governor, both raised serious concerns at the party’s convention about the state of Michigan allowing Nestlé Waters North America to perpetually plunder Michigan groundwater, essentially for free.

Schleiger and Lackie noted that Nestlé pays only $200 per year (per withdrawal site) to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to remove increasingly huge amounts of water from aquifers. The MDEQ defines that $200 payment as “an annual water-use reporting fee.” This incredibly lowball amount paid by Nestle is also confirmed by MDEQ documentation.

While the Awakening News has often reported that Nestlé’s Guelph, Ontario plant has been permitted to extract groundwater for just $3.71 per million liters—already an ultra-cheap price for fresh groundwater—the situation appears to be even more lopsided in Michigan.

Schleiger and Lackie understand that Nestlé, which was already granted one increase in its water-extraction allowance, now is on the brink of being allowed to increase its intake to 400 gallons a minute, or 24,000 gallons an hour, from the White Pine Spring aquifer at the Swiss-based company’s massive water-pumping facility near Evart, Michigan.

According to some history in the MDEQ’s online summary of the company’s Section 17 permit request to increase its water intake, Nestlé, as of 2001, reported having a “baseline” withdrawal capacity of 150 gallons per minute (gpm). [Editor’s note: That’s a reference to Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act of 1976, Public Act 399, as amended].

In 2015, Nestlé was granted an increase from 150 to 250 gpm. From there, as of July 2016, Nestlé submitted a request for another increase under Section 17—from 250 gpm to 400 gpm.

“The public comment period for this application opened on September 19, 2016, and ended on April 21, 2017, running for a total of 214 days. During this time, the MDEQ received more than 80,000 comments, along with 340,000 signatures via petition, and most expressed general concerns about water withdrawals, impacts on other waters of the state, and bottled water operations,” according to an additional MDEQ summary posted online at the agency’s website.

After the public comment period was closed, the 400-gpm request was given preliminary approval as of April 2, 1018—although with conditions, including a need to construct additional pumping infrastructure. More on that in a moment.

The MDEQ explained that after Michigan, Nestlé, and tribal officials held consultations on this sensitive matter,“the permit was issued on April 2, 2018.”

But there’s another hurdle or two.

The MDEQ added: “Nestlé now has to prepare a monitoring plan consistent with the requirements of the permit and submit it to the MDEQ for consideration and approval. Once the monitoring plan is in place and baseline data is collected, Nestlé is authorized to begin withdrawing water at a rate up to 400 gpm from the White Pine Springs well, PW-101.”

Even the earlier, already-approved request for going from 150 to 250 gpm is an increase of more than 200,000 gallons per day, as the MDEQ acknowledged.

But other numbers are far more revealing. Assuming the Evart plant was to run at full capacity around the clock, 400 gpm translates to 576,000 gallons per 24 hours, which is just over 4 million gallons per week, which is 16,128,000 gallons per month—which is 193.5 million gallons per year. Over 10 years that adds up to nearly 2 billion gallons.

A reminder for Canadian and European readers: One gallon is just over 3.78 liters. A quantity of 400 gallons is just over fifteen-hundred liters.

Comparatively, residential water bills for a typical house can cost several hundred dollars a year. For example, Wichita Falls, Texas homeowners in 2015 paid $516 that year, per household, for 60,000 gallons of water for all uses (cooking, showers, laundry etc.).

In Bridgman, Mich., which is along the southeast shore of Lake Michigan (one of the largest depositories of fresh water in the entire world) water-sewer bills doubled two years ago. Average-size families who paid around $45 to $50 per month before the rate hike pay nearly $100 per month now.

Remember, Nestlé will soon get 193 million gallons for $200 per year. The only other money that Nestle pays in the process is a one-time $5,000 application fee for each permit request to increase its intake.

Meanwhile, the regular “tap water” provided by municipalities to homes and businesses oftentimes is mismanaged while being loaded with questionable types and amounts of chemicals—which led to situations like the widespread deadly lead-poisoning that struck Flint, Michigan four years ago.

And, notably, most people today drink less tap water and therefore pay extra money to obtain bottled water.

Or they use sophisticated commercial filters to clean up their tap water. Some types of filters even remove the dental additive fluoride, the use of which is being challenged and debated as some argue that fluoridated water should not be part of the general water supply due to concerns that indiscriminately ingesting it leads to brittle bones and other health maladies that outweigh the claim that municipal water must contain fluoride—a waste byproduct of the fertilizer and aluminum industries.

Interestingly, the PW-101 well near Evart “does not currently have the infrastructure to pump at 400 gpm,” the MDEQ explained. “In order to equip the well with the necessary larger pump and other appurtenances, Public Act 399 requires a construction permit. The Central Michigan District Health Department is the issuing agency for such construction permits. The MDEQ is assisting with the technical review of the plans and specifications.”

Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resources manager for the Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water bottling plant nearby in the town of Stanwood, told the Awakening News July 17 that the 400-gpm extraction is not happening yet despite the permit having been granted, because the construction permit’s approval for the new pumping equipment and compliance reviews with state law are still ongoing.

Morning calls July 17 to MDEQ officials, seeking comment on the status of the latest permit, were un-returned as this article was posted a couple hours later.

State Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor, who serves on the state Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, is deeply disappointed over the approval of the permit.

“Michiganders know that no private company should be able to generate profits by undermining our state’s precious natural resources, which is why an unprecedented number of people spoke up to oppose this permit,” she told the Detroit Free Press (DFP). “Out of [over 80,000] comments filed by the people of our state, only 75 of them were in favor of the permit.”

“And Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, recently said: “Sadly, the [MDEQ] 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,” she told the DFP.

The pending water withdrawal increase will feed a $36-million expansion of Nestlé’s Ice Mountain bottled water facility in Stanwood, located just south of Evart in central-lower Michigan.

“The state’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool initially rejected the proposal, saying it would cause adverse impacts to nearby streams and fish. But the company appealed and DEQ approved the permit request,” the DFP also reported. “Much of the public outrage was generated by the fact that Nestlé gets the groundwater for nothing more than a $200 per year DEQ permit. And that won’t change under the new permit.”