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Water Today Title July 7, 2022

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This story is brought to you in part by Seaveyors

Updated 2017/2/21
Bottled water


By Ronan O'Doherty

Residents in North Western Michigan are trying to take action against Nestle, who they believe is causing irreparable damage to their waterways, wetlands and groundwater sources.

Michigan State law allows for any private property owner to draw water from the aquifer under their property for free, making it ideal for water bottlers like Nestle.

An interstate Great Lakes compact exists that prohibits water diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin. However, a bottling exemption is contained within which allows water to be sold outside the region if it's shipped in bottles smaller than 5.7 gallons. With demand for bottled water still sky high, Nestle is trying to increase production.

At what cost, however?

Mark Orlando, a retired RV salesman and former member of the US Navy currently living in Mount Pleasant, told this reporter that since the Ice Mountain plant near Stanwood, Michigan opened up, his water pressure has dropped by half. "I had to dig 254 feet to get to my well. We were pulling 60 gallons a minute. As soon as Nestle started pumping, we dropped to 30 gallons a minute," Orlando said, adding, "I'm one of thousands of people in Michigan who deal with this. Some people are far more affected than I am."

The latest news in this saga is Nestle's proposal to greatly increase their pumping production from White Pine Springs well No. 101 in Osceola Township from 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. The source is close to two coldwater stream trout tributaries of the Muskegan River.

When asked if this was sustainable, Arlene Anderson - Vincent, Natural Resource Manager for Nestle Waters North America, wrote in an email to this reporter, "The additional withdrawal is sustainable and data supports it. Nestle Waters North America has carefully and extensively studied the well and its surrounding environment. As part of our due diligence, nearly 100 monitoring points are installed throughout the area that are used to collect data on the local hydrology.

We have collected environmental data at the site for more than 15 years, including groundwater levels, precipitation data, surface water levels and flows, temperature data and water quality data.

In addition to the hydrologic data we monitor wetland and aquatic communities. The area is water plentiful, as evidenced by the many wetlands, marshes, swamps and streams that span the area and are part of the Muskegon River's broader watershed."

Jeff Ostahowski , Vice President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), thinks that Nestle, in conjunction with Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), pulled a fast one on local residents when it's last permit was granted to increase pumping capacity. His group would like a moratorium on further pumping as well as an extended period of time for public comment.

Ostahowski said that in January of last year the DEQ granted a permit, without adequately providing the public notice. He pointed out that his organization, which has its ear to the ground, didn't find out about it until last fall.

Michigan's DEQ did post that the new permit info in their Environmental Calendar, an online publication of theirs with bi-weekly postings for permit decisions, administrative rules and public hearings etc.

Ostahowski went on to say that the original permit was for 150 gallons per minute and the one issued in January added 100 gallons per minute. This doesn't take into account requests from Nestle to increase to total gallons per minute to 400.

"We think they've gathered water for over a year on an invalid permit. We believe invalid and illegal are the same thing" Ostahowski said. His organization is of the opinion that Nestle has been pumping using this permit for over a year now and needs to be reprimanded, saying, "We believe it needs to be returned by lessening the amount of their original permit. They should be restricted to 50 gallons per minute for a year."

Furthermore, Ostahowski added in an email to this reporter that, "MCWC believes that the DEQ permitting process must become transparent. Honest public announcement and the opportunity for citizen comment and involvement should attend every permit for water withdrawal as well as the other permits issued by the DEQ."

This reporter was able to get his hands on a letter sent by DEQ Director, Heidi Grether to a representative of For Love of Water, a water advocacy organization. In it, Grether and the DEQ refute claims that their approval of a Site Specific Review (SSR) for the White Pines Spring well site was unlawful.

According to the letter, Michigan law required Nestle to use a water withdrawal assessment tool and register the proposed withdrawal with the DEQ. Nestle were within their rights to request an SSR and when it did so, the DEQ was required by law to promptly complete it. The letter goes on to point out that the SSR, standing alone, does not authorize the increased withdrawal proposed by Nestle, as the company must first obtain a permit. The DEQs review of the application for a permit is still ongoing, pending public notice and comment process.

Ostahowski, when beginning to be interviewed, referred to the argument with as a sigh, saying, "This is a tangled up mess." His organization is calling for statewide public hearings on the Nestle increase to be held in Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, Traverse City and Sault Saint Marie.

Perhaps discussion will help untangle the mess.

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