Nestle drops permit for increased Michigan water withdrawals

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Nestle Waters North America dropped its permit for a massive water withdrawal expansion in Osceola County late last month but still plans to withdraw smaller amounts from the area. 

Nestle, now known as BlueTriton Brands Inc., informed the state Sept. 28 that it would not use a controversial water withdrawal permit awarded to it in 2018 that would have allowed the company to increase water withdrawal from about 250 gallons per minute to about 400 gallons per minute from a White Pine Springs well near Evart. The development was first reported by MLive.

The increased withdrawal was planned for Nestle's Ice Mountain bottled water brand, but the permit was never actually used because the company didn't complete its  required monitoring plan, said Hugh McDiarmid, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

People attending a 2017 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hearing on Nestle's request to draw more water from a well in Evart raise their bottles of water in opposition to someone who was speaking in support of the request.

Instead, the company told the state of Michigan that it would amend its paperwork to withdraw 288 gallons per minute, "a withdrawal capacity for which a permit is not required" under state law. 

In a statement Wednesday, the company said it was able to withdraw sufficient water from "existing sources."

"BlueTriton will not utilize the extra capacity authorized under the approved Section 17 permit at this time," the company statement said. "We appreciate the hard work of the Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy staff throughout the permit review process."

The water withdrawal permit has been the subject of legal challenges before and after it was awarded to Nestle under Gov. Rick Snyder's administration.

The challenges stemmed from groups such as Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Osceola Township also challenged the company's permit to build a boost pump to accommodate the increased groundwater withdrawals. 

The state in 2018 had said its reviews determined the accelerated water withdrawals wouldn't hurt the watershed or nearby wildlife. But the state committed to monitoring surface waters and local wildlife to ensure neither were harmed. The decision came after the state received more than 80,000 public comments opposing the permit.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration said last November that it could not intervene in the administrative case seeking to stop the permit, but the department said it remained "committed to protecting our state's valuable water resources."

Earlier this year, Nestle sold its North America bottled water brands for $4.3 billion to private equity firms that renamed the endeavor Blue Triton.