Nestlé wins key decision in battle over increased water withdrawals

MCWC weighing options

OSCEOLA TOWNSHIP -- An April 24 ruling by Administrative Law Judge Daniel L. Pulter upheld the permit issued to Nestlé Corporation allowing them to pump water from the White Pines Springs well in Osceola Township at a rate of 400 gallons per minute (gpm).

Pulter stated that the higher pumping rate was "reasonable under common law principles of water law in Michigan."

"Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) is pleased that the Administrative Law Judge upheld the permit granted to us by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)," a spokesperson for NWNA said. "We firmly believe that EGLE's decision to approve our permit application was appropriate, as it carefully reviewed and considered our permit application in what it called 'the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.'

"We have the confidence in the science behind our application, the EGLE's thorough review, the 18 years' worth of environmental data collected near the site since beginning our operations in Michigan, and the EGLE's analysis," the spokesperson continued.

In a previous statement from NWNA, natural resources manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent said, in the case of the site in Osceola Township, we maintain nearly 100 "early warning stations" or monitoring locations, which allows us to verify that the groundwater is being naturally replenished and that our water use is not impacting our neighbors or the local environment.

From the beginning, our goal has been to reduce, as much as possible, the impact to the local community and the environment, the statement said.

The permit, originally issued in 2018 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Equality (MDEQ), now EGLE, will allow an increase in water withdrawals from the current 250 gpm, to 400 gpm, a 60 percent increase.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), and the Grand Traverse band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians had challenged the permit approved by Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, filing a petition for a contested case hearing.

The contested case brought forth by MCWC and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa And Chippewa Indians was denied, a statement from MCWC president Peggy Case said.

EGLE successfully argued in support of the original permit decision granted to Nestlé Gov. Rick Snyder's administration in 2018, following a year of public comment and protest, the statement read.

According to a news release from MCWC, Nestlé had been granted a permit to withdraw 150 gpm from the White Pine Springs well in 2009. It was then given an additional permit to add another 100 gpm in 2015.

In 2016, Nestlé applied for the permit to increase withdrawals to 400 gpm.

MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians challenged the permit, saying the increased pumping would harm the environment in the Chippewa Creek watershed.

"The response was so overwhelming in opposition to the permit that the public comment period was extended twice, and the public hearing was forced into the spring of 2017," Case said. "Comments were ultimately taken form roughly 80,000 people, with only a handful supporting the permit."

Despite the overwhelming opposition, the permit was granted, and they then filed the petition for a contested hearing, Case said.

Following the administrative law judge's decision, MCWC stated it intends to continue to educate and advocate on behalf of water justice, and in opposition of pollution, plunder and privatization of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

The recent set-back, a remnant of antiquated laws and the continuing control of our governments by large corporations, is a temporary one.

"We were not surprised that our efforts did not result in victory in the court of EGLE, even after a lengthy and expensive legal battle," Case said. "In the court of public opinion, we won long ago."

"This little set-back, in one insignificant court, will not deter us from continuing our challenges to business-as-usual, or our determination to enact laws and policies that actually serve all the people and preserve our ecosystems," Case said.

Pulter said any appeal to the decision would go to Liesl Clark, head of EGLE.

EGLE spokesperson Scott Dean said the department will look at Pulter's decision and consider his proposed findings.

MCWC are currently weighing their options as presented by the judge and will make a decision as soon as they complete their analysis, Case said.

In December, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a circuit court decision that allowed Nestlé to build a booster pump station in Osceola Township.

The proposed pump station would have been located about two miles away from the White Pine Springs well and would have allowed the company to move more water, more easily through the pipeline to the trucking station in Evart, from which the water is transported to the Ice Mountain bottling facility in Mecosta County.

The township argued that the booster station was not allowed under its current zoning ordinance.

Nestlé argued that the booster pump station and that their plan constituted an "essential public service," but the court of appeals disagreed.

"The trial court erred in effectively concluding that because water is essential, the provision of water in any form, manner or context is necessarily an 'essential public service,'" the judge said.

Nestlé Waters North America announced in February that it would not appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that blocked the company from building a booster-pump station in Osceola Township.