EVART — It's our water, too, and we deserve to be heard.

That was the overall message many community members expressed during a meeting Monday night at the Evart Methodist Church, organized by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. MCWC was seeking public feedback on Nestlé Waters North America's application to increase its pumping capacity at its production well just north of the city, in Osceola Township.

"You are the ones affected by Nestlé's request to increase their withdrawal of water from the well called PW-101," said Peggy Case, MCWC board president. "We're always concerned with Nestle's water withdrawals. We're here to offer assistance to you in whatever we can do. Mostly, we're interested to hear what you, the people who live here, think of this permit request."

Case then shared the organization's stance on Nestlé's permit request, pointing out when the well was first put in at the location in Osceola Township, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said pumping 150 gallons per minute was not sustainable, but has now increased to 250 gpm and the company is seeking to increase pumping to 400 gpm.

MCWC, Case said, believes the water takings in Evart by and for Nestlé have produced environmental damage to both Twin and Chippewa creeks as well as changed the species inventories of both creeks.

"Nestlé's water taking was always dependent on no environmental harm being done by them," Case added. "After more than 4 billion gallons of spring water taken by Nestlé in Evart, that is not the case."

Photos of the headwaters of both Twin and Chippewa creeks were shown, indicating, Case said, was quite different than what Nestlé claims.

"Nestlé claims the point where the Chippewa Creek flows into the Muskegon River has a flow of 510,000 gpm at that spot," she said. "John McClane, a land surveyor who works on our board — his estimate and by just looking at the photo ourselves, figure it's more like 170,000 gpm. There quite a discrepancy to what they say the flow is and what we think it is."

Of the 40 to 50 people in attendance, business owner Steve Petoskey said this should not be just a local issue.

"I like to talk about solutions," he said. "The people in this country need to learn about the people here in Evart as they learned about Flint. We need bumper stickers. We need to protest this. We need to get all the news media that we can to look at this, and they will get the message that we don't want this water taken out of Evart."

Others in attendance, including David Rendleman, were unhappy the City of Evart contracted with Nestlé, as it has continued to seek increases in water withdrawals.

"It's gotten so bureaucratic," he said. "Why is the city colluding with Nestlé? We need to hold politicians accountable for that agreement. There has to be some alternate media that can show what a big corporation like Nestlé is doing."

Retired Judge Marco Menezes said the issue isn't with the application system or procedures, it's with the law.

"It needs to be modified," he said. "The water law is 200 years old and hasn't changed much. It was created when water was an inexhaustible resource and it had no economic value at all. There were folks who gave it away and people wasted it.

"Today, we're starting to see water does have economic value, and in some places around the world, it's a scarce commodity. We can rant and we can cuss the (DEQ) but they are just following the laws that exist. The problem is the law needs to change to reflect the reality that water is no longer an inexhaustible resource. It has economic value and is essential to life. Until we do that, there will be no change."

MCWC Treasurer Glenna Maneke and Vice President Jeff Ostahowski urged those in attendance to make sure they send a comment to the DEQ in regards to the permit application. Case also noted folks should commit themselves and their time to fighting an increase.

For more information about MCWC, visit savemiwater.org.