Water Privatization: The Struggle To Stop Nestlé’s Groundwater Grab Continues

This blog is part of FLOW’s 2020 Annual Report, which you can read here.

For years, a fight has been brewing over public water worldwide. From Michigan to drought-stricken California, to Canada, to Germany, and beyond, the Nestlé corporation is a key player in a worldwide effort to privatize our finite water resources, and then sell it back to us in plastic bottles—in Michigan’s case, in and outside the Great Lakes Basin.

FLOW and our allies, including Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, continue to call on the state of Michigan to withdraw the permit for Nestlé’s groundwater extraction in Mecosta County. On June 17, 2020, FLOW and MCWC co-hosted a webinar that provided frontline, scientific, and legal insights into citizen-led efforts to challenge the Swiss-based corporate giant in its quest to expand its extraction of groundwater in mid-Michigan. Every year, Nestlé in its operations near Evart pumps hundreds of millions of gallons of public groundwater virtually for free, bottles it, and sells it under the Ice Mountain brand back to the public at a huge markup—while threatening streams that provide aquatic habitat and flow to Lake Michigan.

FLOW submitted formal comments to the state on January 30, 2020, citing deep and fundamental deficiencies in a state-approved groundwater monitoring plan fashioned by Nestlé. FLOW demonstrated that the plan’s failure to adequately address hydrological effects leads to the perverse outcome that the monitoring plan will mask, rather than reveal, the actual adverse impacts of the pumping allowed by the permit at issue. “Michigan waters are held by the state as sovereign,” FLOW founder and president Jim Olson said, “meaning, held for all of Michigan’s citizens, so by its very nature, a monitoring plan must be fully transparent, independent, reliable, and accurate to collect data and understand existing hydrologic, geologic, and ecological conditions.”

On November 20, 2020, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) dismissed a case challenging the state permit issued to Nestlé in 2018 for increased water withdrawals from springs in Osceola County. The announcement also dismissed more than 80,000 comments EGLE received opposing the permit. FLOW and MCWC believe it is the duty of the state to make sure that multinational corporations like Nestlé don’t privatize public water and don’t harm water resources in their water bottling operations.

“If anything is important to the people of Michigan, I don’t care what party you’re in, it’s water,” said Olson, who has led the legal fight against Nestlé since the early 2000s.

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