State dismisses case challenging Nestle’s water withdrawal permit in Michigan

Company pumps 1.1M gallons of Michigan water per day, pays only $200 per year

A 2018 case challenging Nestle’s permit to extract Michigan water and sell it for a profit has been dismissed by the state’s environmental department on Friday.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on Friday rejected a case challenging Nestle Waters North America’s permit to increase their water withdrawals from its facility in Osceola County.

The case, brought on by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, was filed after Nestle struck a deal with former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in 2018 allowing it to pump 1.1 million gallons of water per day from Michigan for a total of just $200 per year.

The $200 pays for the approval of the company’s permit to extract water from wells in Osceola County. The company stands to make a potential profit of hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the water pumped out of Michigan.

Environmentalists argue that damage has been caused by Nestle pumping water out in order to bottle it at their pumping site near Evart, Michigan. Residents have also shown outrage over the company taking Michigan water almost for free and turning it into a huge profit.

In 2018, residents told Local 4 that the creek was thriving a few years ago, but things have changed because of the water Nestle is pumping out. The company previously said it had done extensive testing and saw no signs of damage or danger to the environment.

On Friday, EGLE rejected the appeal of the company’s permit, saying the department did not have the authority to intervene under current circumstances.

“EGLE remains committed to protecting our state’s valuable water resources, but as a regulatory agency we must act within our statutory authority,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “The Safe Drinking Water Act only allows EGLE to hold contested case hearings under very limited circumstances which are not present in this case.”

In April this year, an administrative law judge upheld the state permit that allows Nestle Waters North America to pump 400 gallons a minute from a well near Evart in Osceola County, a 60% increase. The water is trucked to an Ice Mountain production facility in Mecosta County. Nestle pulls water from other wells in the area.

In an effort to ramp up the legal fight against Nestle’s use of Michigan water, environmental groups requested that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel step in back in July of this year. She did not pursue legal action at that time, saying the company is operating lawfully in Michigan as the law stands. Nessel did show interest in pursuing changes to state policy to prevent it from happening again in the future, however.

EGLE proposed a similar course of action on Friday while announcing their dismissal of the case.

The EGLE director said the department would “welcome legislative changes that would update regulations to give the agency more authority over water withdrawals for bottled water and royalties to compensate Michiganders for the commercial use of the state’s freshwater resources,” a press release reads.

“We appreciate the calls from the petitioners and other members of the public for water withdrawal royalties on bottled water payable to the state, but that is currently outside of EGLE’s statutory authority,” Clark said. “EGLE supports the calls from lawmakers to take action to prevent private parties from profiting off our state’s water resources.”

Officials say the review process for Nestle’s permit to withdraw water in Michigan was the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history. Still, the company’s permit has been largely contested by residents for years.

EGLE officials said Friday that the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians should have appealed Nestle’s permit with a circuit court directly, rather than with EGLE.

Click here to read EGLE’s entire statement.

A Nestle Waters North America spokesperson issued the following statement regarding EGLE’s decision:

“Nestle Waters North America is pleased that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) dismissed the challenge to the permit granted to us in April 2018. We firmly believe that EGLE’s decision to approve our permit application was appropriate, as it carefully reviewed and considered our permit application in what it called ‘the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.’

“We have confidence in the science behind our application from the 18 years’ worth of environmental data collected near the site since beginning our operations in Michigan, and EGLE’s thorough review and analysis of our application and data.

“We remain opposed to the application of extraction taxes or similar fees that unjustly target the bottled water industry. Proposals such as these are both unscientific and discriminatory, in that they not only target a renewable resource, they focus on only one particular water-using industry in the state. According to EGLE’s own data, Michigan’s nearly 40 bottled water companies account for less than .01% of water used in the state. Our water use in Michigan ranks us far down on the list of the state’s top water users.

“It is also important to note, we do not receive a special rate for water use and the annual fee we pay is just one of the many expenses we pay to operate in Michigan. Since 2002, NWNA has made capital investments totaling more than $267 million and contributed $427 million to Michigan’s economy. According to an economic impact study we conducted in 2017, our company directly employs approximately 280 employees in the state. With an annual payroll of nearly $16 million, our economic activity generates about $5 million each year to support state and local taxes that fund local schools, fire and police departments, local parks, and other essential services. We also purchase more than $50 million in goods and services each year from Michigan companies to support our business operations.”

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.