A rural Michigan river and a bottling plant. These rivers are in danger when companies like Nestle tap the aquifers at their headwaters. 
Photos courtesy Tim Kiser under Wikimedia Commons - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 and via Shutterstock respectively.
A rural Michigan river and a bottling plant. These rivers are in danger when companies like Nestle tap the aquifers at their headwaters. Photos courtesy Tim Kiser under Wikimedia Commons - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 and via Shutterstock respectively.

Nestle has a long and troubled history related to its bottled water. Michigan regulators will give it even more access to rural aquifers. Nestle only pays $200 a year to do it. 

LANSING, MI — Nestle can pump even more water out of Michigan, a state administrative court ruled.

Judge Dan Pulter ruled that Nestle’s plans to pump 576,000 gallons of Michigan groundwater every day to sell under its Ice Mountain label could go forward. The water, being pumped from the headwaters of two coldwater trout rivers in Osceola County, would not damage the surrounding environment if it was absent, Pulter argued.  

That’s disputed by locals. Maryann Borden, 73, told Agence France-Presse that the creek in Osceola Township is warmer than the biting cold it had in her youth. 

“It’s not the same creek, it’s narrower and deeper and therefore warmer,” she said. “The trout can’t survive in it because the water is warmer.”

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The original permit was incredibly controversial, notes MLive. More than 80,000 people commented on the proposal with the overwhelming majority being opposed to Nestle’s request. The permit was granted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Nestle pays the state a scant $200 a year to access Michigan’s water. That, especially, rubs activists the wrong way considering the various water crises that have unfolded in Michigan in recent years from the toxic tap water in Flint to mass shutoffs in Detroit that the United Nations called inhumane. 

“What kind of message is this to Michiganders?” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water (FLOW). “We allow corporations a resource that’s virtually free and, meanwhile, we charge over $200 a month for water that’s poisoned or unaffordable.”

The permit was challenged by advocacy group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. 

“This little setback, in one insignificant court, will not deter us from continuing our challenges to business as usual or our determination to enact laws and policies that actually serve all the people and preserve our ecosystems,” Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation told the New York Daily News.

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Nestle has long had a troubled relationship with the public as it relates to water. In a 2005 documentary called “We Feed the World”, then-CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe infamously made remarks arguing against water as a basic human right. 

“The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the [non-governmental organizations], who bang on about declaring water a public right,” he said. “That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value.”

Both Nestle and Brabeck-Letmathe have walked back that characterization sense, but it often hangs over discussions about the company and its access to water. 

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“Nestle has a reputation worldwide of going to poor rural communities, offering all kinds of economic benefits to the community that never really materialize, and taking as much water as they can get and when the stream runs dry they leave,” Peggy Case, president of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation told Agence France.

Any appeal would go to Liesl Clark, head of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). EGLE spokesman Scott Dean told ABC that the department will consider Pulter’s decision and proposed findings.