Those angry about the government and federal agency corruption that led to the Flint, Mich., water crisis are only going to grow angrier after learning that the state has reportedly issued a preliminary approval for a bottled water giant to nearly triple the amount of groundwater it pumps.
As reported by Common Dreams, the additional water pumped by Nestle would be bottled and sold at its Ice Mountain plant, which is situated about 120 miles northwest of Flint.
There, residents continue to deal with fallout from a cost-cutting decision by city managers to switch water sources to the Flint River, resulting in toxic amounts of lead being pumped into drinking water supplies.
“Nestle Waters North America is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission to increase allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute at one of its production wells north of Evart,” M Live noted in a recent report.
The law allows for a water withdrawal loophole
The site further noted that the DEQ Water Resources Division has already conducted a site review and has given preliminary approval for the pumping increase from January. However, the state’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance is actually the approving authority for the permit.
The approval agency accepted public comments on the proposal until Nov. 3.
Common Dreams notes that though Nestle and other bottled water companies have angered a number of communities for privatizing their water supplies, the news was particularly disturbing to many people in Michigan. Communities including Flint have faced years-long issues with lead contamination in their drinking water.
In fact, Flint residents are still being forced to rely on bottled water for their consumption, cleaning, cooking and bathing needs, while government delays continue to hamper efforts to replace the lead-leaching and corroded pipes in and around Flint.
Meanwhile, M Live noted that officials with the bottled water giant defended the company’s need to bolster its water expansion, because the “U.S. market for bottled water in general is driving the bid for more Michigan groundwater.”
Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, will get to pump the additional water at no cost. M Live noted that under Michigan law, any private property owner can withdraw from the aquifer under their property for nothing – with the exception of a nominal $200 annual paperwork fee. The interstate Great Lakes compact does prohibit water diversions outside the Great Lakes basin, however, a bottling exemption within the law permits water to be collected and sold outside the region if it is shipped in containers below 5.7 gallons.
‘How much is too much?’
The DEQ and Nestle have said that an environmental review indicates that the aquifer can handle the additional draw and will not hurt the flow, levels, or temperature of nearby waters. However, a citizens group that has battled Nestle in the past over groundwater is demanding more scrutiny of the plan.
“It needs to be studied by all the best environmentalists, hydrologists and people acquainted with the science of where this water is actually coming from,” said Jeff Ostahowski, VP of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, MLive reported. He added that there were several different hydrologists who would look at the same data and reach different conclusions.
The citizen group battled Nestle for years in the courts to restrict and reduce the company’s permitted withdrawal. The legal tussle resulted in a 2009 settlement that reduced Nestle’s Stanwood wells to an average of 218 gallons per minute, or some 313,000 gallons daily. Further restrictions were placed on the company during spring and summer withdrawals.
“The issue is the privatization of a critical resource,” said Ostahowski, who is against water being diverted from watersheds that feed into the Great Lakes. “How much is too much?”