Michigan OKs Nestlé’s Water Extraction Plan

UNITED STATES

Considering Michiganders’ ongoing water woes, Nestlé’s request to pump 576,000 gallons of water each day from the Great Lakes Basin was highly controversial. But despite deep public opposition, the state concluded that the company’s plan met with legal standards. (Detroit Free Press)

Health, hygiene, commerce … use our activity to help students understand how people use freshwater.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Nestlé is increasing its withdrawal from an aquifer in the Great Lakes Basin to meet demand for its Ice Mountain water.
Photograph by Steven Depolo, courtesy Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Discussion Ideas

 

  • Why is Nestlé seeking to extract 400 gallons of water per minute from PW-101?
    • Well, Nestlé is already withdrawing 250 gallons per minute from the well. It uses the water to supply its Ice Mountain line of bottled water. The increased extraction plan is part of a $36 million expansion of the bottling facility.

 

  • Nestlé’s petition to extract more water drew a record number of public comments, and the results were startlingly lopsided: 81,862 against and 75 in favor. Why were so many people critical of Nestlé’s plan?
    • Opponents debated “whether water should be seen as a commodity, a commercial product — or a human right.”
      • commodity: “Much of the public outrage was generated by the fact that Nestlé gets the groundwater for nothing more than a $200 per year DEQ permit.”
        • Nestlé is hardly the only business in Michigan to withdraw water at little to no cost. According to James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, “about 3,000 high capacity wells have registered with the state. They withdraw at least 100,000 gallons of water a day. Most of them are farmers who are using the water to irrigate their fields. No one pays for the water, only the permit to withdraw the resource.”
        • Many environmental critics consider Michigan’s water supply (lakes, rivers, and aquifers) as a natural resource that needs to be protected. They point to the fact that Nestlé’s original proposal was rejected on the grounds of “adverse impacts to nearby streams and fish.” In 2001, conservationists even sued Nestlé “over the potential damage to lakes, rivers and streams that its bottled water plant’s groundwater withdrawals could cause.” The lawsuit resulted in Nestlé reducing its original plan from 400 gallons per minute to 218 gallons per minute.
      • commercial product. The minority voices supporting the Nestlé plan say that the company’s well brings jobs and tax revenue to Michigan. In addition, the well does not supply water to public facilities (it belongs entirely to Nestlé), so Nestlé is not depleting a public source of freshwater.
      • human right. Despite its position bordering four of the five Great Lakes (earning it the nickname the “Great Lakes State”), Michigan is beset by major issues concerning public access to safe freshwater. Thousands of opponents to the Nestlé plan compared the ease with which the corporate giant could extract water for profit with the difficulties faced by everyday citizens in obtaining clean water for health and hygiene.

 

  • If 81,862 people publicly opposed the Nestlé plan, why did the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) approve it?

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Detroit Free Press: Michigan OKs Nestlé permit for increased water withdrawal for bottled water plant

NPR: Michigan OKs Nestlé Water Extraction, Despite 80K+ Public Comments Against It

Nat Geo: Using Fresh Water activity

Golder Associates (Nestlé consultants): Nestlé Waters North America: Section 17 of Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality: Nestlé Waters North America Application for Permit to Increase the Water Withdrawal from Production Well 101

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