Swiss water giant Nestle is under fire again after revealing its plans to largely increase their Michigan groundwater withdrawals.
Even after the tumultuous September purchase of a freshwater well in a small township in Ontario, Canada, Nestle still aims to nearly triple its current Michigan water supply.
The agenda that came forth in early November, potentially upsetting a current accord reached with environmentalists seven years ago to protect the water table and wildlife. The plan could stir internal conflict among Flint residents, who have not had clean tap water to drink since 2014.
Though Dennis Muchmore, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, reportedly proposed spending $250,000 to buy bottled water for Flint victims from either Nestlé or competitor Absopure, the call to action fell on deaf ears.
“How about cutting a deal with Ice Mountain,” which is bottled by Nestlé, “or (Absopure Water board member) Bill Young and buying some water for the people for a time?” Muchmore wrote in a March 3, 2015, email, adding that “$250,000 buys a lot of water, and we could distribute it through the churches while we continue to make the water even safer.”
Even though the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has not yet approved the company’s request to increase its groundwater withdrawals by 167 percent, taking the company’s current 150 gallons per minute operations to 400 gallons per minute, the DEQ has recommended approval under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.
“I’m not sure if there is a reasonable amount of water that should be allowed to be taken from an aquifer,” said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of the nonprofit Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the Detroit Free Press reported. “But 400 gallons per minute seems more than a bit too much.”
Though Nestle was successfully sued by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in 2001 over the damage the plant’s groundwater withdrawals might cause to freshwater areas, the settlement reached in 2009 — which lowered the company’s output from 400 gallons per minute to 218 gallons — now risks being undone.
“The MDEQ’s handling of the Nestlé application is as lax as the handling of the Flint water crisis. Nothing has changed,” said environmental attorney Jim Olson, founder and president of the environmental nonprofit For Love of Water.
“Rights to public notice, public information, hearings and public participation in government decisions over water and quality of life, health — even our economy — have been diminished to the point of absurdity,” Olson said. “MDEQ didn’t even post the underlying documents to the application summary online for interested people to review before public comment, and the notice was so hidden and late in the game that no meaningful comments can be made by Nov. 3.”
The $36 million expansion at Nestle’s Ice Mountain bottling operations in Mecosta County, Michigan, aims to add two water-bottling lines beginning next spring, with completion by 2018.