Nestlé Waters North America runs an Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Michigan. The company has asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to increase its current water withdrawal limit of 150 gallons per minute (GPM) to 400 GPM at an aquifer in Evart. The company will truck the water to its plant in Stanwood, where it will be packaged up and sold. Let's review the facts to see if should MDEQ allow this increase in pumping.
Pools and basinsequals .
This is equivalent to every day.
Over one year, this is over 210 million gallons of water diverted from the Great Lakes Basin. Why is it important to keep this water in the basin? Because 99% of the Great Lakes is melted glacier – and only 1% is recharged each year by precipitation. As more communities turn to the Great Lakes for their water needs, and future climate conditions are uncertain, each quadrillion gallon of the lakes is precious.
As an example of water rights issues and the importance of returning water to the basin, the city of Waukesha, WI, recently applied to divert water from Lake Michigan despite its location outside of the basin. The city won the approval to use 8 million gallons of Lake Michigan water each day, provided it treats and returns the same amount of water to the lake. While a city like Waukesha underwent intense scrutiny and negotiations, and must replace the water it uses, Nestlé can freely divert all 210 million gallons per year from the basin (one month's worth of water for Waukesha) and ship it out in 12 ounce bottles.
Why do we allow Nestlé to profit from water diversion while imposing stricter regulations on a neighboring city?
Nestlé claims that the project’s $870,000 in capital investments would be subject to property tax. However, Nestlé had Industrial Facilities Exemptions for its multi-million dollar Mecosta plant, meaning the company avoided property taxes for over a decade – and would likely do the same with any new property investment.
In reality, the proposed increase in pumping does little for Michigan. While the state receives small fees for permits, there are no fees based on the amount of water pumped. It doesn't matter if Nestlé pumps 210 gallons or 210 million gallons, there is no increase in costs or benefit to Michigan or its residents. In addition, the zero-cost of extracting water means there are no incentives for Nestlé to conserve any water within the aquifer.
Nestlé makes an 11% profit margin on bottled water – over $800 million in profit for its bottled water segment in 2015.
Néstle’s increased pumping would lower the aquifer level by one foot, dry up a nearby wetland, increase water temperature of nearby streams by 0.4°F, and lower stream water levels. All of these effects would occur when climate patterns are changing dramatically, and other states are calculating the costs to mitigate historical droughts.
What can be done
The first thing is to contact MDEQ and let them know your thoughts on this proposal before December 3, 2016.
The next thing is to contact your representatives and let them know we need to stop the free giveaway of our natural resources at an industrial scale. In Michigan, this means fixing our water law that enables companies like Nestlé to take water out of the state as long as its bottles are less than 5.7 gallons.
Swimming Pool by Juan Pablo Bravo from the Noun Project.