Despite assurances by the Nestle Corporation, a number of Michigan citizens are concerned about the company's pending request with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to increase its water pumping capacity from its well near Evart. The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation held a press conference on Tuesday near the Ice Mountain plant in Stanwood where MCWC president Peggy Case said there's more to the request issue than just the well in Evart.
“We believe the whole state is affected by this issue and that state laws, state policies are in disconnect from what's really going on.”
In addition to environmental concerns, Case says there's financial issues as well.
“They're paying next to nothing for this water and they're taking it out of the watershed when there are people in the watershed who don't have water.”
Case noted that there are no state laws limiting the amount of water that can be withdrawn by a company. She also cited Detroit where people are having their water shut off for non-payment of bills for using less than 60,000 gallons per year while the Nestle request would allow them to pump up to 210 million gallons per year for a permit fee of $200. And, she says Flint residents are paying an average of $910 per year for contaminated water.
The MCWC, based on hydrology studies that were done in the past, believes damage has already been done to the environment, but they want the data from Nestle to back that up.
“They offered to share their data for their 16 years worth of monitoring these two creeks up in Evart – we're waiting to see that. We'd like to see that data.”
MCWC vice president Jeff Ostahowski noted that they have freedom of information request in to get the data from Nestle and the DEQ, but they were told it would cost the group $14,000 to get it.
Case says a public hearing is being planned by the DEQ, but no date has yet been set and, she says, there needs to be more.
“They were only planning to have one in the city of Big Rapids – not Evart, but Big Rapids. So we're saying, 'no, that's not enough.' We need one in Evart, for sure, that's where the well is, and we also need it in Flint and Detroit, Muskegon, Sault Ste. Marie, and Traverse City so that it's a state-wide look at the issue of water taking and the issue of privatization of water.”
The group is urging citizens to request multiple hearings from DEQ Director Heidi Grether (GretherH@michigan.gov) and Governor Rick Snyder (Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov)
In response to the MCWC press conference, Nestle Waters North America Natural Resource Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent issued a statement saying, “Nestlé Waters North America is committed to being a responsible steward of Michigan’s water resources and maintaining an open dialogue with the local community. We strive for full transparency in our operations and communications...”
The statement also noted that Nestle has invested more that $181 million in the area over the past 15 years and that the Stanwood bottling plant currently employs approximately 250 people with an annual payroll of $19 million. The request to increase pumping capacity is part of a planned $36 million expansion in Stanwood which, they say, will create another 20 new jobs in 2017.