Environmentalists bristle at Nestle’s water bid

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan environmentalists are continuing to criticize a bottled water company’s plan to increase the amount of water it withdraws from an Osceola County aquifer.

An environmental group called Clean Water Action delivered more than 5,000 letters to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Friday showing opposition to Nestle Waters North America’s request to increase the amount of water it takes from the current 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons. The underground reservoir has been used for the company’s Ice Mountain bottled water brand.

The DEQ requires $5,000 for a permit application related to the withdrawal, which would total about 210 million gallons a year.

Environmentalists say the plan could devastate local wetlands in the area as the company drains more water underground, although Nestle’s Natural Resources Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent said in a statement that the increase won’t hurt the environment.

Another opponent delivered a document to the DEQ with more than 350,000 signatures, said Melody Kindraka, a department spokeswoman. About 66,000 of those were signed by Michigan residents, according to the conservation group.

Kindraka said the department has received about 35,000 comments about the water bid after extending its public comment period twice. DEQ extended that period for a third time Thursday until 5 p.m. April 21, amid a deluge of mostly negative comments.

“We are confident in the science and in the professional scientists — both from inside and outside the company — who collect and evaluate the data,” Anderson-Vincent said. “The data we submitted in our application ... demonstrates that the requested additional withdrawal of water is sustainable and will not cause an adverse resource impact to the environment.”

Local conservationists have complained the department’s permit process has been shadowy after the DEQ quietly let the company withdraw more than the 150 gallons per minute allowed by its original 2001 permit.

On Feb. 14, the department also asked in a letter to Anderson-Vincent for scientific data used for groundwater modeling and other information showing the impact of the increased withdrawal. Officials expect a response this month.

Clean Water Action and other environmental groups allege that Nestle did not properly evaluate the requested withdrawal’s impact on wetlands, plant and animal life and urge the DEQ to deny the request.

“This is nothing more than a corporate power grab to take more water from the Great Lakes which will have harmful impacts to our environment and our people here in Michigan,” said Sean McBrearty, a program organizer for Clean Water Action.