Nestlé to allow feds to monitor water withdrawals in central Michigan

Nestlé Waters North America is allowing a federal agency to monitor its withdrawals in central Michigan to help quell questions about its bottled water operations. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

Nestlé Waters North America on Wednesday announced it will allow a federal agency to monitor its withdrawals of up to 400 gallons of minute in central Michigan for its bottled water.

In an effort to answer questions about whether withdrawals are straining water supplies, the U.S. Geological Survey has begun collecting and publishing data on groundwater and surface water near an Osceola County well that feeds Nestle’s Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Mecosta County, Nestlé said in a press release.

Last year, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality provoked outrage by approving Nestlé’s request to tap up extract more than 210 million gallons per year from the well. Environmentalists and some local residents fear the increase will strain groundwater supplies and harm wetlands along the Twin and Chippewa Creeks, two Muskegon River tributaries.

“Some have raised questions regarding the impact of our operations on the environment,” Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resource manager for Nestlé, said in a statement. “While we are confident in the sustainability of our operations, we have asked a respected, third-party scientific agency to conduct their own monitoring.”

The effort comes as some of Nestlé’s foes, including a group called Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, are challenging the pumping permit in state administrative court.

Nestlé said the company pursued the agreement on it own, and it exceeds any state requirements. The USGS equipment will be placed at the same locations Nestlé is monitoring under state permitting requirements. 

The U.S. Geological Survey is the scientific arm of the Department of Interior. It’s now recording real-time conditions near the well, and publishing the data on its National Water Information System website through a joint-funding agreement with Nestle.

“Federal, state, tribal and local governments, as well as private sector organizations, regularly come to the USGS for objective, unbiased water information to protect life and property and effectively manage the nation’s water resources,” USGS scientist Tom Weaver said in a statement.

USGS equipment sits near Nestlé’s well in Osceola Township. (Photo courtesy of Nestlé’)

Jim Olson, a Traverse City environmental attorney whose law firm is representing the group challenging Nestlé permit, said the monitoring could be positive but he wanted more information.

“Additional data, if independent, and based on a carefully designed monitoring plan can be positive in evaluating effects,” Olson told Bridge.

“But if monitoring and gauge or water level stations are not placed in the right location, and tied to pumping during, before, and after, at various levels, the data is almost useless.”

Olson also called it “inappropriate” for Nestlé to reach the deal with USGS without including the parties challenging the state permit.

As a result, the deal “is hardly independent, which is a mistake,” Olson said.

Testimony has been filed to the administrative law judge overseeing the trial over Nestlé’s permit, and cross-examination could continue into June, Olson added.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (the reshaped version of DEQ, known as EGLE) is coordinating the Nestlé’s project with USGS. EGLE Director Liesl Clark, who Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed after Nestlé gained its pumping permit, said she welcomed the independent monitoring.

“We have high respect for the quality of services that USGS provides and believe their involvement will help address some of the public’s concerns,” Clark said in a statement.

On the campaign trail last year, Whitmer was among a slew of Democrats who slammed DEQ’s permit for Nestlé — largely because of how little the state charged for withdrawals: A one-time $5,000 fee atop an annual $200 charged a conglomerate that sold $4.5 billion in bottled water in 2017.

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Wed, 05/08/2019 - 6:54pm

Better yet, Gov Whitmer should just cancel the deal and give Nestle the boot!!!!!

Lance Weyeneth
Thu, 05/09/2019 - 9:00am

If a barrel of “Crude” is worth $60, $80, $100 or $200; then how much more a barrel of “Potable Water”?? I realize that regarding our H2O as a commodity can be a slippery slope... But the current agreement and payment is simply untenable!! Why shouldn’t Michiganders’, paying home-stead taxes and Michigan Income-Tax; receive some form of “Royalty” payments from the parent corporation enriching their stock-holders and management teams?? The notion is not without precedent!

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 2:29pm

Excellent point. Alaskan citizens get paid for their oil.

David Andrews
Thu, 05/09/2019 - 9:22am

USGS is one of the longest existing and least political services of the federal government. I would estimate that over 70% of the population have never heard of USGS and even more cannot name one thing this department does.

I would like to see MDEQ and the protesters locate and drill additional wells and co-locate USGS monitoring there as well as the company locations. Not because I think the company would tamper with or USGS would allow tampering with data, however, punching new holes in the ground would remove any appearance of bias.

WRT the fees that Nestles pays, this came up when Ice Mountain first got their permit, and the legislature has not proposed any different fee schedules, so we have no reason to complain that Nestles is taking advantage of us. And Nestles got a new permit, paid their fees and still no proposal to change the fees. Don't blame Nestles for being smarter than the people that elect legislators in Michigan.

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 9:40am

"...withdrawals of up to 400 gallons of minute..."
"...Nestlé’s request to tap up extract more than 210 million..."
" annual $200 charged a conglomerate..."

Remember when news stories were edited prior to publication? Those were the days!
Tue, 05/14/2019 - 7:50am

Nestle is a Swiss business that makes billions shipping our fresh water out of state. Since state government has weak or no rules regulating such extractions, other businesses and countries could ask to extract water. Would they be denied? So these extractions affect local farming and residential access to water in terms of needing new wells dug deeper? 20% of the world's fresh water yet no rules, regulations and protections that toxins aren't allowed to poison it.

Gary montague
Thu, 05/16/2019 - 9:56pm

Given the impact of all the plastic bottles ending up in landfills and our oceans, don’t you think it’s time to outlaw non-recycled plastic water bottles. Also, I live on a lake that is a few miles away from Evart mi. What happens when the water table drops and my home loses most of its value?

Nestle makes millions on sales of this water, and we get nothing.