Now that the primary election is behind us, Michiganders will pay increasing attention to this fall’s all-important electoral choices. FLOW is contacting the nominees for Governor, Attorney General, and northwest Michigan House and Senate seats this week to inform them of the water and public trust issues we think they should tackle. We are looking for them to provide voters their views on these issues before the November election.
Here are the key challenges we believe the Great Lakes State faces in protecting its public trust assets:
Shut down Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac. These antiquated 65-year-old pipelines convey almost 23 million gallons per day of petroleum products along the public bottomlands of the Straits. They pose an unacceptable risk of a spill that could cause ecological devastation and deliver a more than $6 billion blow to Michigan’s economy. The Legislature should amend Public Act 10 (1953) to require any utility easement authorized under this Act to reapply under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust laws governing occupancy of our public waters and bottomlands.
End Nestlé’s profiteering off public water and secure public water benefits. At a cost of $200 per year in state fees, Nestle is making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit annually by pumping, bottling and selling groundwater that would otherwise feed wetlands and streams. In effect, Nestle is selling back to the public its own water at a markup of more than 2000%. The Legislature should subject all private capture and sale of municipal water and groundwater to state regulation, impose royalties to benefit public water needs, and prohibit withdrawals that have unacceptable impacts on sensitive water resources.
Prevent and remediate Michigan’s groundwater contamination. About 45% of Michigan’s population drinks water from groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, there are 6000 legacy groundwater contamination sites for which there is no state cleanup funding, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems, thousands of private water wells contaminated with dangerous nitrate, thousands of sites that pose a risk of indoor toxic vapor intrusion, and a staggering number of potential sites (estimated at 11,000) where groundwater is contaminated with PFAS compounds. The Legislature should enact laws to address ongoing threats to groundwater quality and create a fund of at least $500 million to clean up legacy contamination sites.
Assure access to clean, safe, affordable water for all Michigan citizens. It is simply wrong that in a water-abundant state, thousands of households are priced out of access to basic water services in communities like Flint and Detroit. The Legislature should provide seed money and mandate public utility water pricing that assures all citizens can afford basic domestic water services.
Flint is still dealing with the lead poisoning of residents’ drinking water. Residents of Detroit are once again experiencing water shutoffs. Ontario has the highest number of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations out of all the provinces in Canada. All the while Nestlé is allowed to pump millions of litres of water from Ontario and Michigan every day to bottle and sell for profit.
I went to Detroit recently to meet with the Water Is Life coalition to talk about these and other water justice issues around the Great Lakes. Nearly 20 organizations gathered over two days to develop strategies to prevent the privatization and commodification of water, ensure affordable access to drinking water and sanitation, uphold Indigenous rights to water, protect the Great Lakes and implement the UN-recognized human rights to water and sanitation.
The groups included the Council of Canadians including the Guelph chapter, Detroit People’s Water Board, Flint Democracy Defense League, Flint Rising, Chiefs of Ontario, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Story of Stuff, Wellington Water Watchers, Corporate Accountability International, Great Lakes Commons and more. The coalition has continued meeting since the Water Is Life: Strengthening a Great Lakes Commons summit in Flint last fall to coordinate work and develop collective strategies to advance the human right to water around the Great Lakes Basin.
Nestlé’s bottled water operations in the Great Lakes Basin
In Ontario, Nestlé continues to pump up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) of water every day on expired permits from its two wells in Wellington County, Ontario. Nestle has purchased a third well in Elora and could be given the green light to pump once Ontario’s moratorium on new and expanded bottled water permits ends in January 2019. The City of Guelph has raised concerns about the impacts of Nestlé’s water takings on the municipality’s future drinking water.
Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford becoming Ontario’s new premier raises serious concerns about the protection of water from Nestlé and other bottled water companies.
Council of Canadians’ Political Director Brent Patterson has noted, “Ontario PC leader Doug Ford does not appear to have issued a policy statement on the issue of bottled-water takings, but the Toronto Star has previously reported that clients of the Ford family firm, Deco Labels & Tags, include Nestlé Canada Inc., Coca-Cola, Cara Operations and Porter Airlines.”
Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians have been calling for a phase out of bottled water takings in Ontario. Recent surveys by both organizations have shown that the majority of people in Ontario want bottled water takings to be phased out and for water to be protected for communities.
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) both recently filed legal challenges against the Michigan government for giving Nestlé the green light to increase its pumping from 250 gallons (946 litres) to 400 gallons (1514 litres) of water every minute. GTB have consistently raised concerns that Nestlé’s permit approvals fail to consider the GTB’s treaty rights.
In May, there were 174 Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations across Canada, with 91 DWAs in Ontario alone. Some of these First Nations have been under DWAs for 5, 10 and some even nearly 20 years and rely on bottled water as a Band-Aid solution. The Mohawks of Tyendinaga on Lake Ontario have had DWAs since 2003 and 2008. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises to end DWAs, the total number of DWAs has remained largely the same.
Different levels of government are responsible for different areas of water management. The provincial government issues Permits to Take Water to companies like Nestle while the federal government is responsible for water on First Nations reserves. But both levels of government have continued to approve projects without free, prior and informed consent as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and governments must coordinate to respect treaty rights and implement the human right to water.
Detroit water shutoffs is a violation of the human right to water
In Detroit, the fifth round of water shutoffs began this spring. 17,000 homes were earmarked for their water to be shut off this year. Roughly 80% of Detroit residents are black. Poverty rates are also at roughly 35%. Water rates have risen in Detroit by 119 per cent in the last decade and many residents are unable to pay the high water bills.
UN experts have made clear: “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”
Council of Canadians Guelph chapter members Lin Grist and Ron East and I joined the Solidarity Saturday’s rally outside the Detroit Water Department to protest the water shutoffs. Participants at the rally connected the dots between water justice issues like Nestlé’s water takings, Flint’s water crisis, Indigenous water rights and the Detroit water shutoffs. Residents and supporters chanted, “Water for Flint, Not for Nestlé” and “Water is a human right!”
The Detroit Water Department now shares an office with the Great Lakes Water Authority. Food and Water Watch and other groups raised concerns about the potential for privatization with the regional water authority early on.
Flint’s water crisis is not over
The poisoning of the water in Flint over the last four years has led to urgent water and public health crises. The lead has resulted in an increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages, development impacts on children and a host of serious medical conditions.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ordered the last water pods to be closed in April stating that they have restored water quality and the need for bottled water has ended.
The corporate takeover of water by big water corporations like Nestle around the Great Lakes and the violations of the human right to water and Indigenous rights shows that access to water often falls along racial, class and other lines.
Economic globalization and unregulated market capitalism have divided the world – and the Great Lakes Basin – into rich and poor as at no time in living history and endangered the ability of the planet to sustain life. Tragically, most governments support an economic system that puts unlimited growth above the vital needs of people and the planet.
I am heartened and energized by groups and communities around the Great Lakes as we continue to build a world that protects the human right to water and protects water for people and the planet.
Emma is a FLOW Board Member and currently the national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, Canada’s leading social action organization that mobilizes a network of 60 chapters across the country and advocates for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. She has been with the Council since 2010 and has worked in the field of human rights and social justice for 15 years. She also holds an M.A. in Political Economy.
Michigan officials have been busy this spring — busy handing out permits to take or destroy Michigan’s water and natural resources in violation of clear constitutional and legal mandates: A mandatory duty to protect the public’s paramount interest in our air, water, and natural resources; a duty to prevent impairment of our water, wetlands, natural resources; a public trust duty to protect our water from loss, diminishment or harm; and a duty to protect the paramount concern for public health.
This is nothing new from our federal government these days, with President Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt not only gifting permits, but outright attacking Clean Air Act rules that protect our health and seek to control greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, and repealing well-designed rules that protect the waters of the United States from pollution and loss. But are Michigan’s officials–its governor, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, its attorney general—doing something similar?
Our officials in Michigan may not be as brash and openly hostile towards health, water, air, and the environment as our federal officials, but their record of indifference is just as bad if not worse, and the recent permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute or 576,000 gallons a day from the headwaters of two pristine creeks is “People’s Exhibit One.” This is why it was imperative that Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians filed contested-case petitions against the DEQ’s approval of the most recent Nestlé permit. Their petitions are spot on. Our leaders have gone from indifference to deliberate damage. Unlike federal leaders, Michigan officials don’t come right out and admit they’re anti-water or environment. They do their damage by bending and twisting the law to justify a permit, and telling the public through well-crafted media releases that they have studied the matter more extensively than ever and followed the rule of law. If citizens and organizations like MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band (or Save Mackinac Alliance, who recently filed a petition against more band-aid supports of a failed Line 5 design in the Straits) didn’t take on our officials, we’d never know what really happened, and everyone would blithely slide into summer as if everything was pure as ever. Well, it’s not.
In the last few months, Michigan officials have managed to do all of the following:
Issue a permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute from the headwaters of Twin and Chippewa Creeks by interpreting or relaxing the law to help Nestlé get the permit;
Issue another permit to Enbridge for 22 more anchors to support a failing pipeline design in the Straits of Mackinac, now totaling 150 anchors and suspending a pipeline built to lay in the lakebed 2 to 4 feet in the water column, so the line is more vulnerable to powerful currents and ship anchors than ever;
Approve a permit to convert a small state fish hatchery into a large commercial fish farm that diverts and discharges untreated water from the fabled AuSable River;
Issue a permit for 11 groundwater wells to remove 1,350 gallons a minute or about 2 million gallons of water a day, and inject it more than a mile down in the earth to mine potash, and leave it there;
Issue a permit for a 700-foot deep, 83-acre open pit gold mine in wetlands along the Menominee River near Iron Mountain;
Sign or support an agreement with Enbridge to build a new heavy tar sands tunnel 5 years from now to replace Line 5 while ignoring the legal limitation that the Great Lakes are off limits for crude oil pipelines under the lakebed just like oil and gas development, and ignoring the fact that there are obvious alternatives like adjusting in a relatively short term the capacity in the overall crude oil system that runs into Michigan, Canada, and elsewhere.
Does the DEQ or State ever deny a permit anymore? Do they ever take legal action to protect rather than defend these permits? Almost never. It’s always up to citizens and organizations like MCWC, the tribes, and citizens. It shouldn’t be this way, but with the deliberate anti-water, environment and health track record of the State, it’s reality. MCWC’s case to contest the Nestlé 400 gallons per minute (“gpm”) permit is a good example.
Last week, Governor Snyder tried to brush off a television reporter’s question about the Nestlé permit, offhandedly saying he thought the state “followed the law,” and that any “other objections like hundreds of millions of dollars to Nestle without paying a dime for the water were policy matters.” When the DEQ issued the permit, Director Heidi Grether also stated that the DEQ “followed the law,” and that the department’s review was the “most extensive in history.” That’s how it works these days, permits are issued, our state leaders hide behind a façade called the “rule of law,” “comprehensive review,” or “the most extensive review in history.” Ironically, citizens and organizations have placed the law before the Governor, Attorney General Schuette, and Director Grether on Line 5 and Nestle so these permit applications were under the “rule of law,” and these officials have done everything they can do to obstruct the rule of law. Governor Snyder skirted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and other laws with his private deal with Enbridge to rebuild Line 5. Director Grether refused clear legal standards in approving the Nestle permit. And Attorney General Schuette’s office has been behind these maneuvers at every turn.
So, is this true, or are our leaders beguiling us into thinking they’re doing their job? MCWC’s petition for contested case appears to answer the question. Here’s what MCWC’s petition shows:
The DEQ’s permit on its face postponed the very factual determination required by the Safe Drinking Act and the Water Withdrawal Act before a permit can be approved: Does the existing hydrological data, including actual calculated effects on flows and levels before and after pumping required before a permit can be issued, show adverse impacts or impairment to public or private common law principles? The DEQ issued the permit without the existing data and conditions, relying on Nestle’s self-serving computer model, and postponed the required evaluation and finding to an after-the fact- determination.
Both the Safe Drinking Water Act and Water Withdrawal Act have special sections for bottled water withdrawals that require the applicant to submit and the DEQ to evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological (soils and water), and environmental conditions. Unfortunately, all Nestlé submitted was a computer model that calibrated its own parameters to reach the conclusion that the pumping would cause no adverse impacts, and several years of intermittent measurements of flows and levels without reference to actual drops in flows or levels of the creeks and wetlands before and during pumping. The required measurements and data required to evaluate existing conditions were established by penetrating and extensive analysis of flows and levels and the effects during pumping on creeks, wetlands, and nearby lakes in the MCWC v Nestlé case in Mecosta County over a DEQ permit to pump 400 gpm. The appellate courts found unreasonable harm when the actual existing data was used to calculate the effects and adverse impacts from pumping. When it did so, the courts determined that 400 gpm from headwaters of the creek and two lakes was unlawful, that it would cause substantial harm. Nestlé and DEQ know this, yet the agency issued the permit in this case without requiring the information on existing conditions required by the law.
The DEQ compounded the error by limiting its after-the fact evaluation to the additional 150 gallons per minute, not the whole 400 gpm. In effect, the DEQ implicitly authorized the first 250 gpm, rubber-stamping Nestle’s 2009 Safe Drinking Water approval for the first 150 gpm, and Nestle’s 2015 registration and Safe Drinking Water approval for an additional 100 gpm. Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act requires a specific permit and determinations for any withdrawal for bottled water that exceeds 200,000 gallons per day. While Nestlé had received a well permit to pump 150 gpm or 216,000 gallons a day in 2001, our officials turned their back on Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act when Nestlé asked for final approval in 2009. When the additional 100 gpm was registered in 2015, bringing the total 250 gpm or 276,000 gallons a day, our officials turned their back again. The DEQ’s recent 2018 permit for 400 gallons a minute allowed Nestlé to avoid obtaining the permits for the 2009 and 2015 expansions required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
So there you have it: strike three, you’re out. Our state officials didn’t follow the law, and they didn’t study the legally required existing data and information– extensively studying the wrong data is meaningless. So, the answer is, our officials beguile their constituents and citizens into thinking they are “following the law” and “extensively evaluating” the information to fulfill their duty to protect the water, natural resources, public trust and health, when in fact they deliberately shaved and relaxed the legal standards in favor of Nestlé so the officials could approve the permit they were going to issue in the first place.
The die is cast. The permit is reviewed, the permit is issued, the news release sugar coats it, and the water, environment, and people’s quality of life or health are damaged or put at serious risk. In a way, this seems worse than the federal government’s blatant attack on water, environment, climate, or health. Why? Because it’s done behind closed doors with calculated manipulation of the law to achieve a deliberate result: Issue the permit even if it is likely to cause harm. At least President Trump and EPA head Pruitt acknowledge what our leaders are too afraid to admit: “We are anti-environment, anti-water, anti-health, and pro-corporation and exploitation no matter what the cost, and we intend to bend, dismantle, and repeal these laws if necessary to get our way.” Oh, really, that’s not happening here in Michigan, is it? Our leaders deliberately follow their own law, then issue the permit.
Jim Olson, President and Founder
Thank you MCWC, Grand Traverse Band, and all of those people and organizations in Michigan who take our leaders to task for violating their constitutional and public trust duties to protect the air, water, quality of life for all of us. They deserve our whole-hearted support. This is real citizenship and democracy in action. This is why contested cases and lawsuits are necessary and good for Michigan.
These legal duties on our leaders are mandated in the order stated: Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 52; Michigan Environmental Protection Act and Supreme Court decisions, notably Ray v Mason Co Drain Comm’r, 393 Mich 294; 224 NW2d 883 (1975) and State Hwy Comm’n v Vanderkloot, 392 Mich 159; 220 NW2d 416 (1974); the common law public trust doctrine; and Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 51.
The MDEQ and the Snyder Administration have failed (again) to fulfill their public trust responsibilities as defenders of our waters.
While we are continuing to analyze the state permit and accompanying documentation, and will have a comprehensive response in the near future, some things are clear. The DEQ issued Nestlé a permit to pump up to 400 gallons per minute, or 576,000 gallons per day, on the condition that Nestlé submit a monitoring plan and hydrogeologic measurements on flows and levels and agree to reduce pumping to 250 gallons per minute when the measurements show adverse effects.
The DEQ is going to issue the permit now and wait to make the determination of harm later. This is not a “reasonable basis for a determination” of effects before the permit was issued, which was what the law required.
We’re disappointed that the MDEQ not only ignored the clear opposition of tens of thousands of Michigan citizens who have opposed this giveaway of publicly-owned water, but also ignored serious deficiencies in Nestlé’s application.
Michigan went down the wrong path a decade ago when it approved a law treating private capture of water and sale for profit as just another water withdrawal. It is not. Commercialization of public water is a betrayal of the public trust.
FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine. What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple. This 1500-year old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned. Rather, this commons – like the Great Lakes — belongs to the public. And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources.
In the coming year, we will explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday. Today, we begin with a roundup of critical public trust issues in Michigan in 2018.
Let’s look on the bright side, rather than dwelling on past failures. In the coming year, state officials and legislators have several opportunities to full their responsibilities as trustees of public trust resources:
Line 5: The twin pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac underwater are there only because, in 1954, the state granted the company now called Enbridge the privilege. State government never relinquished its ownership, on behalf of the public, of these waters and submerged lands.
In 2017, a stream of disclosures about negligence, poor pipeline stewardship, and concealment of critical information by Enbridge dramatized the risk to the public interest posed by Line 5. The Attorney General and Governor have the opportunity to eliminate this risk by revoking the Enbridge easement and phasing out or shutting down Line 5.
Nestle: The multinational corporate giant in 2016 asked the state DEQ for an increase in its already excessive pumping of groundwater for bottling and sale. This despite evidence that Nestle’s existing withdrawal is lowering the water levels of streams fed by this groundwater, and harming fish and fishing. The DEQ has an opportunity to protect the public trust by denying Nestle’s permit request.
Aquaculture: Proponents are seeking a state law authorizing the installation of factory fish farms in Great Lakes waters. These operations, which generate large amount of fish feces and could undermine the genetics of public fisheries, do not belong in public waters. Further, the private occupancy of public waters by fish farms and other structures is wholly inconsistent with the public trust doctrine. The Legislature has the opportunity to protect the public trust by rejecting the legislation.
These are only some of the public trust concerns at stake in Michigan and the Great Lakes this year. FLOW will work to restore awareness of and respect for the public trust doctrine among Michigan officials, and help the public bring pressure on them to fulfill their responsibilities.
A Circuit Court ruling reversing Osceola Township’s denial of a zoning permit for a booster station five days before Christmas does not clear the way for Nestlé’s push for a massive increase in pumping from 150 gpm to 400 gpm (210 million gallons a year) from two headwater creeks. Nestlé must still obtain a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under two laws that prevent Nestlé from degrading water levels, fish, wildlife, habitat, and wetlands.
In June 2017, the DEQ refused to issue a permit because Nestlé failed to submit sufficient proof that its more-than-doubled removal of water would not harm the waters and the state’s paramount public interest in its natural resources. In November, 2017, a Nestlé consulting firm submitted additional information based on an addendum to its computer model. FLOW, a Great Lakes Policy Center, and other organizations, including Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, have submitted comments contesting the adequacy of Nestle’s model and supporting information. Their comments have demonstrated the model is not reliable to determine effects to headwater creeks, streams, and wetlands, and that some of the data has demonstrated adverse effects at even 150 gallons per minute.
In a related matter, Circuit Judge Susan Sniegowski released a decision on December 20, 2017 that reversed an Osecola Township zoning denial of a booster station located along a water pipeline more than a mile from the wellhead. The booster pump would increase pressure in the line to handle the large expansion. The Court ruled that Nestlé’s booster station could be located in the township’s agricultural zoning district because it qualified as an “essential public service.”
“The Court ruling is a narrow one,” said Jim Olson, noted water and land use lawyer and advisor to FLOW. “The Court ruled only that Nestlé did not have to show ‘public convenience and necessity’ in order to qualify for the ‘essential public service’ exception for its booster station in the farming district. It does not affect the continued lack of proofs needed for the state permit.”
Nestlé must still overcome the demands from the State, FLOW, MCWC, the Tribes, and thousands of public comments to show that the massive increase will not adversely affect and harm water and natural resources.
Nestlé lost a 9-year battle in Mecosta County when the circuit and appellate courts found that the removal of 400 gpm from a similar headwater stream system was unlawful. “Based on the experience in Mecosta, it is unreasonable for Nestlé to expect, let alone for the State to approve, an increase above 150 gpm, if at all,” Olson said. “So the booster station is largely superfluous.”
Jim Maturen of Reed City is a lifelong conservationist who looked personally into the concern that Nestle’s water withdrawals are affecting critical and sensitive trout streams. He did it the old-fashioned way – he went out in the streams. We asked him for his observations.
The controversy over Nestlé’s extraction of water in Osceola County has been fought in meeting rooms and offices. Is that why you went out in the field?
Yes. As a trout fisherman for 60 years and in law enforcement for 31 years, I decided to discover the facts.
Two trout streams begin from the spring that Nestlé has tapped for its water pumping. One is Chippewa Creek and the other is Twin Creek. It came to my attention that landowners on Chippewa Creek had dated photographs of a full flowing creek and then another of low water and mud flats after Nestlé began its operation. On July 17, John McLane and I began our research in the field. John is a registered surveyor who knows the area very well.
What did you find?
What I expected to find were full, fast running streams. What I found were still-flowing but extremely shallow streams. We were there to determine if there is sufficient temperature to support trout. As we worked downstream from the headwaters temperatures in the two streams varied from a low of 56° to a high of 65°, which is sufficient to retain trout.
What did you use as a baseline?
The fisheries division of the Michigan DNR conducted a research study on whirling disease in trout in both streams in July 2000. They started on Chippewa Creek 300 feet downstream from 90th Ave. in Osceola Township and went back to the culvert using shocking equipment to gather trout specimens. On July 31, John and I began stopping at sites in the DNR study to see if we could water depth sufficient to support trout. Our first stop was at Chippewa Creek at 90th Avenue, where the DNR study was conducted in 2000.
As I walked downstream from the culvert, the water was ankle deep. There was a lot of woody material in the creek, but no holes were found and no trout found. This is the exact spot where the DNR in 2000 found an abundant amount of trout, but no longer. Trout cannot survive in such shallow water.
That’s a big change.
Next stop was on Twin Creek at South Oak Street in Evart. This is the same area where the DNR collected 20 trout. We had difficulty accessing the same location but checked the cover just downstream. There were only about eight inches of water downstream.
Everywhere we checked, water was low. But we found Nestlé’s monitoring pipe and an additional measuring device downstream from several culverts – typically the deepest part of a stream. Was Nestle trying to distort the situation in the creeks, making the maximum depth appear to be average?
What’s your overall conclusion?
We spent a great deal of time examining the two creeks. It’s apparent that Nestlé’s operation is affecting the traditional flow of water to these creeks. By doing so, they have destroyed the fishery. How can Nestlé be allowed to take more water? They should be limited to 150 gallons per minute. If the streams don’t recover, then Nestlé’s operations must be terminated. I have brought these facts to the attention of the state Department of Environmental Quality. I hope they will give them the weight they deserve.
Any final thoughts?
Facts must be the basis of any decision making on Nestlé’s proposal to extract more water. Out in the real world where government decisions have their impact, Nestlé is already in the process of ruining sensitive and vital natural resources. They should not be allowed to do more damage.
Jim Maturen served with the Michigan State Police from 1957 until 1989, retiring as a sergeant. He served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners from 1983 until 2002. He co-founded the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Michigan in 1983 and co-founded the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association in 1996.
“My grandson that’s not here tonight, that’s twelve years old, he was to be an academic ambassador to go to Washington in the year 2014 and 2015. Well he was an A-B student but by the time the lead began to corrode his brain, he was no longer an A-B student. He was a D-E-F student,” said Bishop Bernadel Jefferson of her grandson, one of the thousands of children affected by the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Bishop Jefferson, who is with the Flint group CAUTION, was one of the speakers on the Friday night panel of the Water is Life: Strengthening our Great Lakes Commons this past weekend.
Bishop Jefferson has been a pastor for 27 years and an activist for 25 years. She is married with ten children and ten grandchildren. She was one of the first signers of the emergency manager lawsuitagainst Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in 2013. Her passionate talk brought tears to many eyes of the 200 people gathered at Woodside Church for the summit. At the same time her talk energized the audience. Her message of doing this work for all children and the importance of coming together reverberated among the crowd. Bishop Jefferson said of the gathering, “Tonight we make history. We did something they didn’t want us to do and that was to come together.”
Water justice for Great Lakes communities
Maude Barlow gave an important keynote speech on Friday night on water justice struggles around the world and her work with other water warriors to have the UN recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. Jim Olson from FLOW gave an impassioned talk about Nestle in Michigan and the importance of the public trust. Indigenous lawyer Holly Bird talked about her work with the legal team for Standing Rock, water law from an Indigenous perspective, that governments need to honor the relationships that Indigenous people have with the water and how that can be done without someone controlling or owning water.
(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians)
Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board, who many affectionately call Mama Lila, talked about how the water fights are racialized in Michigan. “The fight we have in Michigan is very much racialized. We need to understand that truth and we need to speak that truth. Because what is happening even as we speak in terms of how Flint and Detroit is being treated would not happen if it was a white community.” She pointed out how the crises are being condoned by the silence of white people. She took a moment to remember late activist Charity Hicks who was a leader in the fight against the shutoffs and who encouraged people to “wage love”.
(Photo right: Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board)
In Canada, the lack of clean water is also often racialized. There are routinely more than 100 drinking water advisories in First Nations, some of which have been in place for nearly two decades. At the start of her talk on Saturday, Sylvia Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation taught the audience how to say “aanii” which is “hello” in Anishinaabe. The Great Lakes region is predominantly Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatami). She talked about how Aamjiwnaang First Nation has had methylmercury in the sediments in their river for a couple of decades. Plain also talked about how the Anishinaabe have cared for the waters and land for thousands of years.
Wearing a Flint Lives Matter t-shirt, Saturday’s keynote speaker (starts at 23:00) Claire McClinton from Flint Democracy Defense League, further described the water crisis in Flint. She pointed out, “In Flint Michigan, you can buy a gallon of lead free gas, or a gallon of lead free paint, but you can’t get a gallon of lead free water from your own tap.”
(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Claire McClinton of Flint Democracy Defense League)
Rob Case from Wellington Water Watchers of Ontario and Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservationboth talked about their grassroots organizations and the local resistance to Nestle’s bottling operations. Peggy Case pointed to the larger issue of the privatization and the commodification of water. “The dots have to be connected. We can’t just look at bottled water. The right to water is being challenged everywhere. The privatization of water is a key piece of what’s going on in Flint,” she explained. The state of Michigan is suing the city of FLint for refusing to sign a 30-year agreement that requires the city to pay for a private pipeline to Detroit that will not be used by residents.
In Evart, Michigan, two hours northwest from Flint, Nestlé pumps more than 130 million gallons (492 million litres) of water a year from the town to bottle and sell to consumers across the state and country. Last year, the corporation applied to increase its pumping by 60 percent. Nestlé’s current pumping and proposed expansion threatens surrounding wetlands and wildlife in the region, which at the same time violates an 181-year-old treaty that requires Michigan state to protect the habitat for the Grand Traverse Band and Saginaw Chippewa tribal use.
Nestlé continues pumping up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) a day in southern Ontario despite the fact that both of its permits have expired – one permit expired in August and the other expired more than a year ago. The Ontario government is required to consult with communities on Nestlé’s bottled water applications but still has not done so. The Ontario government recently made some changes to the bottled water permitting system including a two-year moratorium on bottled water takings and increased bottled water taking fees (from $3.71 to 503.71 per million litres) but local groups and residents want more. They are calling for a phase out of bottled water takings to protect drinking water. The Council of Canadians is calling Nestle’s and other bottled water takings to be an election issue in next year’s Ontario election.
Summit speakers and participants were outraged that governments allow Nestlé and other water companies to take, control and sell water for a profit while failing to secure clean water for residents in Flint, Detroit, and many Indigenous nations.
Days before the summit, the Guardian reported that Nestle only pays an administrative fee of $200 in Michigan while Detroit resident Nicole Hill, a mother of three, has her water shut off every few months and has to pay “more than $200 a month” for water.
During the summit, participants took a pledge to boycott Nestle and single-use bottles of water. Immediately after the summit, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation announced the organization was joining the boycott. To join the boycott, click here.
As a tradeable good, NAFTA dramatically limits a government’s ability to stop provinces and states from selling water and renders government powerless to turn off the tap. Removing water as a “service” would help protect water as an essential public service. When services are provided by private corporations, NAFTA provisions limit the involvement of the public sector. Removing water as an “investment” and excluding NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to sue governments for laws or policies that protect water. Canada has already been sued for millions of dollars for laws protecting water.
A vow to end to Nestlé water takings
Over the weekend, participants of the summit listened to these moving and inspiring presentations and participated in workshops on Blue Communities, challenging the corporate control of water, the colonial enclosure of water and more. The gathering included local and Great Lakes residents as well as water justice, Great Lakes and grassroots organizations including our Guelph and Centre-Wellington Chapters of the Council of Canadians.
One thing was clear at the end of the summit: participants were ready to take action to end to Nestlé’s bottled water takings in Great Lakes, work to have the human right to water implemented and bring water justice to all who live around the lakes.
Acting in part on scientific evidence developed and submitted by FLOW and our expert team, the Michigan Department of Environmental has directed Swiss water-bottling giant Nestlé to reassess the likely impact on local wetlands, streams, and natural springs of its application to dramatically increase water extraction to 210 million gallons a year near Evart, northeast of Big Rapids.
The state action is an important step forward in protecting vulnerable water resources, as Nestlé Ice Mountain seeks a state permit to more than double its spring water withdrawal from the current rate of 150 gallons-per-minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from its White Pine Springs well No. 101 in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County.
“Staff have endeavored to complete their review with the information provided and, in light of input from Nestlé’s experts, have concluded that the information, analysis, data, and explanation provided does not yet provide the DEQ with a reasonable basis to make the determination if the requirements” in the law will be met, James Gamble of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wrote the company on June 21.
The DEQ requested that Nestlé provide, among other things, a revised groundwater model using improved methods to evaluate the interaction between the streams, aquifers, and wetlands and detailed water budget analyses – including sources of water and assumptions – during wet, normal and dry years.
“It shows that science and law still matter and must come before corporate schemes to turn the public’s water into a private commodity,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s president and founder, who as a Traverse City environmental attorney previously fought Nestlé in court on behalf of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The DEQ should be commended for upholding the law to its highest standard, which is to require evidence of actual impact before approving the permit.”
It is the second time the DEQ has sought more information on Nestlé's July 2016 permit application for the highly controversial proposal, which is part of the company’s $36 million planned expansion of its Ice Mountain bottling plant in Stanwood. Hundreds of people in April attended a state public hearing to oppose to permit, and tens of thousands submitted public comments in opposition.
The MDEQ is reviewing Nestle's application under Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, a regulation specific to Michigan water bottlers developed in response to environmental concerns sparked by Nestle's original Sanctuary Springs wellfield. It's the first Section 17 application to be reviewed since the law passed. The statute is tie-barred with the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which states that groundwater pumping must have no "individual or cumulative adverse resource impacts."
In reviewing Nestlé's application this spring, FLOW requested that a team of scientists – Dave Hyndman, PhD, an expert in hydrogeology, and Mark Luttenton, PhD, with expertise in stream and wetlands – review the Nestlé application.
Dr. Hyndman’s evaluation found that Nestlé’s “application does not fully evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological, or other physical and environmental conditions because: (1) Data collected between 2001 and the onset of pumping in 2009 do not appear to be used or evaluated; (2) The seven or eight years of data on the effects of pumping at 150 gpm when pumping started in 2009 have not been used or evaluated.”
Dr. Luttenton found that the information submitted and evaluated is insufficient for the MDEQ to make a determination of effects, impacts, harms, and impairment of Nestle’s proposal, including likely impacts on:
-Fish species -Invertebrate communities -Existing physical conditions, including upstream or in surrounding seeps and unnamed small creeks -Wetlands and plant species
“Based on my analysis to date, my opinion is that the water withdrawal by Nestlé’s [proposal] will, or is very likely to cause environmental impacts to the surface water resources in the region,” Dr. Luttenton concluded. “In addition, my opinion is that during low flow and low water level conditions, there is inadequate water in the Chippewa Creek, Twin Creek, and other surface water features, to prevent probable impairment, degradation, or harm to the aquatic and ecological system, including fish and fish habitat.”
On a recent bike tour in northern Michigan, I decided to put Evart on the itinerary and stop by the area where Nestle Waters North America is hoping to increase their taking of Michigan groundwater. Nestle would like to increase the flow in their existing production well (PW-1) from 250 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, and send the water to their water bottling plant in Mecosta County. This flow would total over 500,000 gallons per day, or 210 million gallons per year. Nestle’s cost to take this water - a $200 permit fee. This production well is located in a hydrologically sensitive area of springs and between the upper reaches of Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek.
Before my visit, I had already reviewed information provided by Nestle: topographic maps, soil borings, historical stream flow and groundwater level data, an aquifer test performed on the production well, and the predictions from a groundwater computer model their consultants produced. Hydrologists rely on this type of data and models to analyze watersheds and look at “what if” scenarios. A site visit fills in some of the gaps and details that you can’t see on a sheet of paper or on your computer screen.
This area just north of the small village of Evart is beautiful - rolling and wooded. The land is private, and mostly occupied by hunt clubs and the Spring Hill Camp. The travel was slow for me on my bike because the roads were soft gravel and hilly. A loaded touring bike (and owner) prefer flat and paved. I was able to only see the creeks where they crossed the roads, but I was able to get some sense of the hydrology and topography.
Bike touring provides lots of time to think, and my concerns with this taking of Michigan groundwater rolled around in my brain. Two primary concerns are as follows:
Nestle has been pumping groundwater from this production well for over a decade and gathering data. It is unusual but very beneficial to have all of this historical data. Unfortunately, Nestle did not use the data to analyze the effects of the historic pumping on the small streams and springs near their production well PW-1, nor did they share all of the data with the public. They only used the data to develop a computer model that was then utilized to predict the impacts of an increased flow from PW-1. Computer models are far from perfect. FLOW hired its own hydrologist to review Nestle’s reports, and has pointed to several concerns and unsupported assumptions in Nestle’s work.
The production well is located where it is so that Nestle can label the water “Spring Water.” Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements in fact state that “Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring.” (See excerpts from FDA regulations in Attachment 1). The difference between taking a few gpm of groundwater flowing out of a spring, and pumping hundreds of gpm from a bore hole is significant and will likely always impact the small springs and streams nearby. If a large production well is installed, one is simply drawing in groundwater from the area and the production well can be located out of the sensitive headwater areas of the watershed. For example, the City of Evart community wells are located only a few miles away from PW-1, along the Muskegon River, and are pumping virtually the same water from the same unconfined aquifer. But the potential impacts are much different – the average flow in the Muskegon river is 450,000 gpm, whereas the average flow from a gauge on Twin Creek close to PW-1 is 780 gpm. When a pumped well removes 400 gpm from an unconfined aquifer, the result is a taking of 400 gpm from the springs and streams nearby. The impact is obvious.
So whether you enjoy bottled water or not (I don’t buy it), it is clear to me that Nestle is taking too much of Michigan’s groundwater, in a precarious and sensitive location, for too small a fee. On this bike trip, I travelled along the Muskegon River from Paris to Hersey to Evart to where it crosses Highway M-61 west of Harrison. It is a big, beautiful river, from a big, beautiful watershed that drains a large chunk of Michigan. Groundwater taken close to the Muskegon River minimizes the impact to the watershed, and gets rid of the uncertainty of the computer models. This water could not be labeled Spring Water, but that may be a compromise that the citizens of Michigan would be willing to accept.
Bob Otwell has been a member of the FLOW board since 2013. He is the founder of Otwell Mawby PC, a Traverse City environmental consulting firm. He has degrees in Civil Engineering and has experience in groundwater and surface water hydrology, along with environmental studies and clean-up. Bob did a career switch and was the executive director of TART Trails from 2001 to 2010.