By Shea Howell

November 7, 2016

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was swamped this week with objections to its decision to allow Nestle Waters North America to increase its pumping of water from an underground aquifer. Nestle wants to more than double its current rate from 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. This would amount to 210,240,000 gallons of water a year being sucked out and transported by truck to their Iron Mountain bottling plant. This bottled water is shipped throughout the midwest in little plastic bottles and sold for enormous profit.

In an article about Nestle’s unprecedented effort to get control of water supplies in Maine, Nathan Wellman concluded, “Nestlé is infamous for taking water from US communities for billions of dollars in profit and then dumping the environmental costs onto the rest of society. Environmental scientist Vandana Shiva has called its practices ‘the most pervasive, most severe, and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of the earth.’”

Nestle already taps into 50 spring water sources and aquifers across the United States. This is a tremendously profitable business, as in most cases, corporations simply purchase cheap rural lands and pump away.
According to the International Bottled Water Association in 2013, Americans drank over 10 billion gallons of bottled water, generating $12.3 billion in revenue for beverage companies. This was more than double the revenue recorded in 2000. Americans spent $18.82 billion in 2014 purchasing what comes, basically free, out of the tap.

As people become more aware of water as a public trust, to be protected for our common future, private-for profit water companies are facing resistance.

Certainly, we in Michigan have seen the complete lack of public accountability from the Mayor’s office in Detroit to the Governor’s office in Lansing. No one should think that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality can be trusted to make a decision that protects people or the fragile eco-system on which we depend.

For more than a decade Mecosta County residents have resisted the ability of Nestle to simply take water out of the aquifer for free. Nestle pays zero to take the water out of the earth. It gets an additional $13 million in tax breaks from the State.
The obscenity of this arrangement is highlighted by the fact that all of this is happening within 150 miles of Flint, a city still dependent on drinking bottled water to survive as the State complains it has no funds to help replace lead pipes to homes and schools.

No one should be under any illusions about Nestle’s desire to make money without concern for people or the planet. They recently claimed victory over a hard fought citizen lead effort in Fryeburg, Maine. Nestle won a state Supreme Court case upholding its claim on local groundwater for the next 25 years. The deal could be automatically extended for 45 years.  Protesters said,

“Contracts of this length come with an unprecedented concern in our current times. With the changes we are witnessing in our climate, increasing global water insecurity, and industry polluting freshwater resources with little accountability… corporate control over drinking water resources for profit aligns us on a collision course with local water security.”

This defeat underscores the importance of creating national, state and local protections to affirm water as a human right.

In the meantime, we should consider the efforts of water protectors in Oregon.  This spring they used a ballot initiative to stop Nestle from extracting over 118 million gallons of water a year from their community. They passed a first-of-its-kind ballot measure banning the production and transportation of 1000 or more gallons of bottled water per day for commercial sale within the county. The measure succeeded by an overwhelming majority of voters. It stopped Nestle.

Only the organized power of local citizens will protect our waters now. Join the effort to protect the Great Lakes by sending you comments to the MDEQ
deq-eh@michigan.gov.