Lansing — Nestle Waters North America plans to continue providing Flint residents with free bottled water through the end of August, extending the service as the city continues to replace underground lead service lines in response to a contamination crisis.

The food and beverage company, through its Ice Mountain brand that bottles and sells Michigan groundwater, says it has provided roughly 100,000 bottles of water a week to Flint help centers since May 2018.

Community relations manager Jason Manshum said Ice Mountain offered to continue the donations through the end of August after working closely with Mayor Karen Weaver, non-government organizations and the community “to understand how we can best help meet their needs.”

Weaver celebrated the extended donation plans.

"I am grateful to Nestle for honoring my request to extend supplying bottled water to our help centers through August,” she said in a statement. "After some conversation, we were able to solidify a few more months of water donation."

Former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration stopped providing state-funded bottled water in April 2018 after test results showed lead levels had tested below federal limits for nearly two years.

But Flint residents remain skeptical, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she is committed to ensuring they have continued bottled water until the city finishes a massive underground pipe replacement project.

The continued Nestle supply could bridge that gap as the city aims to complete work by the end of July, but 1st Ward Councilman Eric Mays said the timeline may be overly "optimistic" and suspects the project may take longer.

Council last week approved contracts with two companies to try to complete the job. In the interim, Mays welcomed the continued donations from Nestle.

“I know they had a cutoff, and I thought they might renew it under the circumstances, so that’s good news,” he said.

By the end of August, Nestle will have donated over 6.5 million bottles of water to Flint help centers, according to Manshum.

The company holds a state permit allowing it to bottle up to 576,000 gallons per day of Michigan groundwater for an annual reporting fee of $200 a year.

Even with the Nestle donations, demand for bottled water by Flint residents far outweighs available supplies, Mays said.

“All you have to do is on any Monday go to Bethel United Methodist on Ballenger Road and they still wrapped around the block,” he said.

Mays said he is considering plans to create a for-profit water distribution company modeled after Amway, the marketing and home care product giant based in West Michigan.

Such an enterprise could provide jobs for local residents and ensure bottled water availability into the future, he said. “We congratulate Nestle, and we hope they keep an open line of communication even if we set up the for-profit distribution.”

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