Environmental Group says permit didn’t follow the law
The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MSCWC) is challenging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s recent (MEDQ) permit approval that will allow Nestle to take 400 gallons per minute of water a day from what’s called the White Pine Springs Well near Evart and truck it to the Nestle bottling plant located approximately 40 miles away.
MCWC’s Attorneys Ross Hamersley and Rebecca Millican filed the petition with The Michigan Administrative Hearings Office on Friday, June 1st.
The water withdrawal increase from 250 gallons a minute to 400 gallons a minute is part of a 36 million-dollar expansion of Nestle’s Ice Mountain bottled water facility in Stanwood.
When Nestle originally tried to increase the amount of water from 250 gallons to 400 gallons a minute in 2016, the state’s Water Withdrawal Assessment tool rejected the proposal, concluding it would damage nearby streams, rivers and lakes and have an adverse effect on fish.
But at the beginning of April, the MDEQ changed course and determined the application meets the requirements for approval under Section 17 of the Michigan State Drinking Water Act.
Director of the MDEQ Heidi Grether released this statement when Nestle’s application was approved in April: “The scope and detail of the department’s review of the Nestlé permit application represents the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history. We are hopeful that whether residents agree with the Nestlé permitting decision or not, they will acknowledge and respect the work that MDEQ staff did to thoroughly and conscientiously apply the law in reviewing the permit.”
Grether admitted, “In full transparency, the majority of the public comments received were in opposition of the permit, but most of them 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 our department is required to follow the rule of law when making determinations.”
In fact, out of 81,862 comments filed by the people of Michigan in response to Nestle’s most recent request to increase its water withdrawal, only 75 of the comments were in favor of the permit.
Residents of Evart like Maryanne Borden tell Great Lakes Now there is visible damage to the lakes, rivers and streams caused by more than a decade of Nestle’s water withdrawal (see her comments in DPTV’s Great Lakes Bureau’s documentary “Tapping the Great Lakes”)
Nestle is the biggest food company in the world. In November of 2017, the company’s market capitalization was estimated to be around $265 billion.
Nestle pays just $200 a year in administrative fees to the state of Michigan to pump more than 130 million gallons of water each year to bottle water withdrawn from Michigan aquifers at several wells that is then shipped from its plant in Evart. Nestle is not charged a royalty or license fee or even a state tax to withdraw water from Michigan’s aquifers.
Nestle has been pumping spring water for its “Ice Mountain” bottled water operation in Evart for 13 years. In 2015, the company asked for an increase – from 250 to 400 gallons per minute.
Environmental activists have been battling Nestle long before the doors of the plant ever opened.
And President of MSCWC Peggy Case says the fight isn’t over yet.
She tells Great Lakes Now, “What we have just done is filed what is called a petition for a contested case hearing. We filed it with the Department of Environmental Quality. What it says basically is that they should not have issued that permit because they did not follow the law.”
Case says, “They never provided the data that’s required by the Safe Drinking Water Act Section 17 that they must provide before getting a permit that shows the condition of the environment – the actual real-life condition of things – not a computer model. They in fact don’t have the real data that’s required by law. We are asking the DEQ to withdraw the permit.”
Great Lakes Now reached out to Nestle for comment. Nestle’s Ice Mountain Resource Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent gave us this statement:
“People are passionate about water and so are we. Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) shares the same deep commitment to the people and natural resources of Michigan with all of the state’s citizens. While we have not had the opportunity to review all of the details of the appeal, the facts of the situation remain:
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) carefully reviewed and considered our application in what it has called, “the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.” At the conclusion of that analysis,” the department developed a 58-page recommendation memo, and provided 22 conditions for the permit.
Anderson-Vincent says, “We have the highest degree of confidence in the more than 16 years of scientific data supporting our application. Moreover, the department has highly trained professional scientists on staff that are committed to being leaders in environmental stewardship who collected and evaluated the data for the state. We appreciate the MDEQ’s comprehensive review and firmly believe that the decision was appropriate.”
What’s next? President of MSCWC Peggy Cases says the case now goes to an administrative law judge at the MDEQ. The judge will then review the petition and, most likely, Nestle will intervene. If the judge thinks the petition has merit, the judge could decide to withdraw the permit, or the case will wind up going to what amounts to a trial at the MDEQ’s administrative law court.
Great Lakes Now will keep you posted.
Meanwhile, check out our documentary about water withdrawal called “Tapping the Great Lakes” that takes a closer look at Nestle’s bottled water operation and at the Waukesha, Wisconsin decision to allow the city outside the Great Lakes basin to withdraw Lake Michigan water for its municipal drinking water supply.
To see the MSCWC’s petition, go to MSCWC’s website at savemiwater.org.
To see MDEQ’s decision on the most recent request to withdraw more water from Nestle, go to michigan.gov
For more on Nestle’s operation, go to nestle-watersna.com
Featured Image: Bottled Water, Photo by Steven Depolo via flickr.com cc 2.0