Michigan upholds Nestlé permit to withdraw 576K gallons of groundwater daily

Friday’s decision is the latest twist in a lengthy dispute over Nestlé’s proposed pumping increase. The company’s opponents say they are now considering whether to sue. (Bridge file photo by Jim Malewitz)

Michigan environmental regulators will not reconsider their decision to let Nestlé Waters North America increase groundwater withdrawals to support the company’s Ice Mountain bottling operation in Stanwood, state officials announced Friday.


Instead, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has dismissed a complaint challenging the 2018 permit that allows the company to increase its withdrawals form the Osceola County well by 60 percent.

The permit, granted under then-Gov. Rick Snyder, allows Nestlé to withdraw up to 400 gallons per minute—576,000 gallons daily—to supply its Evart water bottling operation in exchange for a $200 annual fee.

The state concluded the petitioners, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, should have made their claims in a circuit court.

“EGLE remains committed to protecting our state’s valuable water resources, but as a regulatory agency we must act within our statutory authority,” said Liesl Clark, director of the state’s environment department.

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“The Safe Drinking Water Act only allows EGLE to hold contested case hearings under very limited circumstances which are not present in this case.”

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation President Peggy Case said she’s disappointed and will meet with the group’s board of directors this weekend to determine whether to file a lawsuit.

“I’m not surprised,” Case said. “They seem to be following right along with the policies of the [former Michigan Gov. Rick] Snyder administration.”

In a statement, a Nestlé spokesperson said the company “is pleased” with the department’s decision.

“We have confidence in the science behind our application from the 18 years’ worth of environmental data collected near the site since beginning our operations in Michigan, EGLE’s thorough review and analysis of our application and data,” the statement read.

Friday’s decision is the latest twist in a lengthy dispute over Nestlé’s proposed pumping increase. In April, Administrative Law Judge Dan Pulter found the increase was “reasonable under common law principles of water law in Michigan.” 

That led to the complaint from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

Case said she’s disappointed that state regulators have allowed Pulter’s ruling to stand. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned in part on a promise to “control the siphoning of water for water bottling,” and Case said Friday’s decision leaves her feeling jilted.

“They promised they would do something about it, but they have not,” she said. 

Jim Olson, founder and president of the nonprofit For Love of Water, said EGLE’s action “undercuts citizens’ faith and trust.”

“There was no reason for the Department or Attorney General’s office to after-the fact argue there was no jurisdiction,” Olson said, “other than punish citizens’ good faith participation in government.”

The state release noted that many Michiganders take issue with the fact that Nestlé receives the water virtually free-of-charge, as do all Michiganders who draw their water from a privately-owned well on their property.

Michigan’s “reasonable use” doctrine generally gives landowners the right to pump water from underneath their property so long as it doesn’t interfere with surface water navigability or other users’ rights. 

Clark said the department supports efforts to “prevent private parties from profiting off our state’s water resources,” but fixing the problem would require action from the state Legislature. 

Nestles’ opposes new taxes or fees, which it says “unjustly target the bottled water industry.”

A release from the department called Nestlé’s Osceola County operation “the most intensively monitored water withdrawals in the state.” That monitoring and additional federal data provides assurance that nearby water resources are “actively monitored and protected.”

But Case disagrees. She said state regulators have been “unwilling to talk to us” about concerns that Nestlé’s pumping is impacting the local ecosystem. 

The well is near two coldwater trout streams, Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek, and Case said she’s “seen the mudflats and dried-up feeder creeks” that she believes prove Nestlé’s withdrawals are harming the local environment.

The decision provides clearance for Nestlé to increase its extractions from the well, but as of Friday, it was unclear whether the company had the infrastructure capacity to do so.

Osceola Township used zoning laws to stop the company from building a booster station to pump the higher volume of water through a pipeline for eventual bottling at the Stanwood plant.

The Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the township’s denial in December, after a lower court had ordered the township to approve Nestlé’s needed infrastructure.

Case said Nestlé planned to transport water through other means, but it’s not clear whether the company has followed through with its plans. Nestlé did not respond to questions about the matter.

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Fri, 11/20/2020 - 3:37pm

Question: Is it too late for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to make their claims in a circuit court?

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 11:42am

Then they would have to treat it like the rest of us who have to purchase from our city sources. It would hurt their unbridled profits and greedy business plan. You should think more of others.(sarcasm ) Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Objective truth...
Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:19pm

Stop and think- if profits were so "unbridled" and their "greed" so easily fed by Michigan's free access to groundwater, why wouldn't other businesses be doing it? There's only about 4 or 5 companies bottling water from their own wells in the entire state- and only 1 of those is big enough that you have even heard of them (Absopure). All the rest of the many bottled water brands you see is purchased from a city water system and re-sold.

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 4:22am

Does this have an impact on excessively high Great Lake water levels? Does any of that water enter ground water tables? Maybe the solution is to monitor rather than give unlimited blanket permission.

Objective truth...
Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:06pm

No, Nestle's withdrawals barely have an impact on the closest small streams, lakes, and wetlands to their wells. Let alone the enormous Great Lakes. It's a tiny drop in the bucket. Don't believe the claims that Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation makes about the harm Nestle causes, it's simply not true. Nestle's withdrawals ARE closely monitored and their permits are tightly controlled to ensure no negative impact.

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 6:21pm

How are Nestlé Waters’ withdrawals different from the typical agricultural or golf course water withdrawal elsewhere in our State?

Objective truth...
Mon, 11/23/2020 - 11:59am

Absolutely no different, just bigger than most. According to self-reported data in Michigan, there are no golf courses that pump nearly as much, and about 35 farms that pump more groundwater than Nestle. On average, a golf course or a farm field might be irrigated ~15,000,000 gallons/year by a single well. Nestle's total withdrawal from 9 wells at 4 different locations is about 350,000,000 to 390,000,000 gallons per year, so equivalent to ~25 golf courses or farm fields. Some farms might operate dozens of wells on different properties/fields, hence the 35 farms that pump more than Nestle