LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation will legally challenge the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s latest permit given to Nestle Waters North America, which will allow the company to extract 400 gallons of water per minute (gpm) from the White Pines Springs well in Osceola County.
April 2 the MDEQ granted Nestle permission to increase their bottled water extraction from 250 gpm to 400 gpm in Osceola County. Before June 2, the MCWC will file an appeal with the MDEQ's administrative court, which oversees this permitting process, and contest the permit.
"This is one little well in Evart, Michigan, but the water that Nestle is taking from that is sold for a profit, at the same time that people in both Flint and Detroit don’t have sufficient water," said Peggy Case, MCWC President.
"We think it’s really unjust that the state allows a company like Nestle to take water for free, while people are being shut off. And the same week that they issued that permit they cut off the pods in Flint that were providing water to those people who still don’t have [...] clean water."
In 2000, Case says MCWC sued Nestle in Mecosta County for a similar issue involving a different water site. Ultimately that case settled in 2009 stating that Nestle extracting 400 gpw would not be sustainable. Case says during the MDEQ comment period, the majority of the roughly 80,000 remarks, including from experts, urged the state to prohibit the increased water extraction citing environmental damage.
"Even at 150 gpm, even when [Nestle was] pumping that, we’ve already seen the effects: there’s dry headwaters, there’s little feeder streams that are dried out," said Case, adding that cold water trout areas no longer have trout populations near the extraction site.
In response to FOX 17, Ice Mountain Natural Resource Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent wrote in part:
"Rainfall and snowmelt recharges the aquifer every year at a rate higher than our proposed withdrawal, meaning we’re taking out less than what nature is putting back in.
We share our critics’ desire to ensure the continued care of our shared natural resources, here in Michigan and beyond. But we believe in the science, and it tells us that our withdrawal of water from this site will not have a negative impact. This is supported by the MDEQ’s review of our permit, which itself called 'the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.'"
According to Nestle, in 2017 the company extracted 161,884,000 gallons of water from Osceola County, and 380,534,000 gallons among their sites statewide. According to the MDEQ, Nestle is the 85th largest water user in the state.
Meanwhile, there is pending state legislation that would affect the MDEQ and water extraction permitting process. First, a package of Michigan Senate Bills, including 652, 653, and 654, would create different advisory boards with oversight over the MDEQ, and some of whom would be appointed by the governor to oversee the MDEQ rules.
Then, Michigan House Bill 5638 proposes softening regulations for large quantity water withdrawal permits. It would allow some parties applying for permits to avoid MDEQ review, and then enable the MDEQ to withhold certain information from related Freedom of Information Act requests.