Of course, the DEQ has been at the center of controversy for several years now, its director and spokesperson resigning in shame over the agency’s involvement in the Flint water crisis. The way public comment over Nestlé’s groundwater grab was invited by burying the notice in a little-read administrative document would appear to further tarnish the department’s already compromised reputation. And if not for MLive’s nick-of-time reporting, the people of Michigan may not have widely known that the comment period ends today, Nov. 3.
And, quite rightly, the situation has water preservation groups hopping mad. This morning, we heard from Jeff Ostahowski of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, and it sounds like Nestle and MDEQ are in for a fight.
We had estimated that “tens of thousands of people all over Michigan rely on groundwater for daily use.” Our conservative estimate was way off. Ostahowski says, “Four million people in Michigan get their drinking water from aquifers, and we all can be certain that if Nestlé is granted this huge increase, there will be far more than the 45 wells Nestlé states in their application that will be negatively affected.”
Ostahowski goes on: “We believe that there are literally tens thousands of Michigan citizens who are opposed to this new huge increase. These people in opposition come from everywhere, not just around the Muskegon watershed.”
“Nestlé has already taken more than a billion gallons of our fresh water and paid nothing for it. If they are granted this increase, they will have to pony up the tremendous sum of $200 per year, for a 250-gallons-a-second increase. This is a travesty. …”
Ostahowski says his group promises to perform a technical review of the Nestlé permit application, which he says, at first blush, “appears to be a terribly flawed document.”
That review will likely come some time in December. We’ll follow the issue into the future, but, for the next few hours, you can make your voice heard officially by commenting. Here’s how:
Through the end of Nov. 3, you can still submit written comments to Carrie Monosmith by email at email@example.com, or by mail to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7741. Comments received by November 3, 2016 will be considered in the decision prior to final action. Information Contact: Carrie Monosmith, Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, 517-284-6535; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVART, MI — Swiss giant Nestle plans to significantly increase the amount of Michigan groundwater it pumps from under the state in conjunction with a $36 million dollar expansion of its Ice Mountain bottling plant.
Nestle Waters North America is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission to increase allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute at one of its production wells north of Evart.
The DEQ already issued a draft approval for the request in January and is accepting public comment on the proposal until Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nestle and the DEQ say an environmental review shows the aquifer can handle the more than doubled withdrawal and wont hurt the flow, levels or temperature of nearby surface waters, but a citizens group which previously fought Nestle over groundwater wants more scrutiny on the plan.
“It needs to be studied by all the best environmentalists, hydrologists and people acquainted with the science of where this water is actually coming from,” said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.
“There are many different hydrologists who can look at the same data and come up with different conclusions,” he said.
The citizen group fought Nestle for years in court to reduce the company’s allowed withdrawal; resulting in a 2009 settlement that reduced Nestle’s Stanwood wells to an average of 218 gallons per minute, about 313,000 gallons per day, with restrictions on spring and summer withdrawals.
“The issue is the privatization of a critical resource,” said Ostahowski, who objects to water bring diverted from watersheds that feed the Great Lakes.
“How much is too much?”
The group wasn’t aware of Nestle’s new plans until being contacted by MLive. The Nestle proposal was published last month in the DEQ Environmental Calendar, a bi-weekly clearinghouse for permitting decisions, new administrative rules and other official notices that is not widely read by the general public.
The DEQ Water Resources Division conducted a site review and signed-of on the pumping increase in January, but the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance is approving the permit.
“The DEQ should have sent us this information,” Ostahowski said.
The DEQ hasn’t received any public comment on Nestle’s proposal, according to Carrie Monosmith, environmental health chief in the drinking water office.
Nestle is the largest among handful of self-supplied water bottlers allowed to tap and sell Michigan groundwater. The company operates well fields in Mecosta and Osceola counties, and also sources water from the Evart municipal system.
Between 2005 and 2015, the company withdrew more than 3.4 billion gallons of water from its three well fields, according to state DEQ data.
Nestle could pump up to 576,000 gallons-per-day, (about 210 million gallons-per-year), under the proposed increase on White Pine Springs well No. 101 in Osceola Township. The well, built in 2001, is located southwest of the 9 Mile Road and 100th Avenue intersection, about 1,700 feet north of the headwaters of Chippewa Creek and about two-and-a-half miles east of Twin Creek. Both are coldwater trout stream tributaries of the Muskegon River.
The well is connected by pipeline to a loading station near US-10 in Evart, where the water is then trucked to the Stanwood bottling plant. A booster station along the pipeline would be built to aid the increased withdrawal.
In its proposal, Nestle claims average water levels in Twin and Chippewa creeks would “decline only minimally” from the increased pumping and wouldn’t exceed what might be expected from natural stream stage variability.
According to the proposal, “an incremental effect of the proposed increased withdrawal on wetland water levels may occur in five wetlands, but is not expected to cause adverse ecological effects. Observations of these wetlands did not find the presence of any threatened or endangered species.”
Nestle already increased the well’s daily pumping rate in 2015 and earlier this year, but needs DEQ drinking water office approval to max out the withdrawal capacity under the Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Nestle is adding two new bottling lines and 80,000-square feet of production space to its 746,000 square-foot Stanwood plant.
Growth of the facility and the U.S. market for bottled water in general is driving the bid for more Michigan groundwater, say company representatives.
According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, the U.S. consumed more than $14.2 billion, in wholesale dollars, worth of bottled water in 2015. Total bottled water volume grew to nearly 12 billion gallons.
Bottled water is the leading growth category in the domestic beverage market, with a U.S. per capita consumption average of 36.7 gallons per person last year, according to the trade group. Product marketing and advertising frames bottled water as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks.
The market potential led Nestle to Michigan, where the company owns wells that tap underground springs that feed iconic Michigan rivers. Michigan law allows any private property owner to withdraw from the aquifer under their property for free, subject only to a nominal $200 annual paperwork fee.
The interstate Great Lakes compact prohibits water diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin, but a bottling exemption within the law allows water to be sold outside the region if it’s shipped in bottles smaller than 5.7 gallons.
In Stanwood, Nestle is expanding its Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water and Pure Life brand products. Construction began this month. The first new line is schedule to begin operation next year and the second will open in 2018.
The company employs 250 people in Stanwood and said the expansion would add more than 20 new jobs. Nestle says water bottled in Stanwood is distributed in Michigan and the Midwest.
To comment on the Nestle capacity increase, email Carrie Monosmith at email@example.com, or send mail to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7741. Comments must be received by Nov. 3