By Meghan Haas and Brandon Fountain Herald Review Staff Writers STANWOOD \u2014With a $36 million expansion project at its Ice Mountain bottling plant in Stanwood, Nestl\u00e9 Waters North America will have the ability to increase its operations to meet consumer demands. As part of growing its spring water bottling operation at the facility, Nestl\u00e9 Waters has asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for permission to increase its draw capacity at the White Springs Well No. 101 in Osceola Township, which the company owns. Currently the draw capacity at the well is 250 gallons per minute. Nestl\u00e9 has requested the DEQ to allow it to draw up to 400 gpm, according to its application. A public comment period was to expire on Nov. 3, but the DEQ extended public comment for 30 days, and then an additional 90 days. It now is open until March 3, 2017, and the DEQ also plans to have a public meeting. One of the biggest concerns from residents and conservationists is the environmental impact the proposed increase would have on the Chippewa and Twin creeks. \u201cWe are good environmental stewards,\u201d said Nestl\u00e9 Waters North America Ice Mountain Natural Resource Manager\u00a0Arlene Anderson-Vincent. \u201cWe originally started at 150 gpm back in 2009 \u2013 we increased to 250 gpm back in 2015. So this increase is going from 250 to 400. There is some confusion out there because the state application looks at it from 150, the original baseline, to 400. But we have been operational at 250 gpm for well over a year.\u201d Even with the increase from 150 gpm to 250 gpm, Anderson-Vincent said the annual average water draw from 2015 at this well was 99 gpm. \u201cWe built redundancy into our system so we are not over-reliant on any one source,\u201d she said. \u201cWe have a regular monitoring program. We monitor groundwater, surface water, wetland levels. We have a full aquatic program where we monitor all the macro and micro invertebrates on nearby streams. \u201cWe also do a wetland monitoring program,\u201d she added. \u201cSo, we have a very robust biological environmental monitoring program, and the hydrologic monitoring program. So we are looking at surface water, ground water, and the ecosystems in the area, and we have been for 16 years.\u201d The well, located in Osceola Township, is connected by pipeline to a loading station within Evart's city limits located near U.S. 10, before being transferred to Ice Mountain's Stanwood plant. The proximity of the well to the City of Evart, the loading station within city limits and having N\u00e9stle as a commercial customer has thrust the Osceola County municipality into the discussion as the public comment period continues. However, City Manager Zack Szakacs said an increase in pumping at the well will have no affect on Evart's water supply or its contracted agreement with Nestl\u00e9. \u201cSince 2005-06, Nestl\u00e9 Ice Mountain has been a contracted water customer of the City of Evart,\u201d he said. "They do the maintenance and they have to pay the same water rate as residents.\u201d The current water rate charged to Nestl\u00e9 is $2.30 per 1,000 gallons. \u201cWe have a good working relationship with Nestl\u00e9 and they are a good, paying customer,\u201d Szakacs said. \u201cWith that partnership, we designate two spring water wells of ours to Nestl\u00e9 Ice Mountain." The city manager said water remains an abundant resource in Michigan. "Water is far healthier and safer for people than, say, grape juice, which is full of sugar, made by other companies," he said. "The Muskegon River basin aquifers have tons of water. The amount they're requesting is a drop in the bucket." PRODUCTION WELL A production well, according to Anderson-Vincent, is a well used to bring water to the surface of the earth. These wells are 6- to 10-inches in diameter and long enough to stretch below the water table, a layer under the surface where water is saturated in the soil. At different distances from the production well are several monitoring wells, which are typically 1- to 2-inches in diameter. Each type of well has a protective, locked casing to keep them safe. \u201cThere is no pumping equipment in them,\u201d Anderson-Vincent said about the monitoring wells. \u201cThere is a sensor that scientists use. They have something like a tape measure and they lower it down into the monitoring well. Once it hits the water table, it lets off an audible beep and lets us know how deep it is.\u201d When the production well is turned on, it brings water to the surface and lowers the water table in the immediate area. This area is called draw down, and is monitored to see how deep that draw down is, how wide it is and how quickly water is being replenished, or recharged. \u201cIn Michigan we are very blessed as far as our recharge rates. We have lots of precipitation,\u201d Anderson-Vincent said. \u201cThis is a very water-rich area, and we are very committed. We monitor and are very transparent with our data.\u201d Anderson-Vincent said groundwater levels naturally fluctuate. During spring, the levels go up from snow melting. In the summer, the levels go down, then back up in the fall. \u201cWe have many spots monitoring groundwater levels,\u201d she said. \u201cWe have been doing that for 16 years. We initiated this monitoring system in 2000, measuring stream flow. There is a lot of focus and attention on the water cycle and the hydrology of the area. We also monitor precipitation and temperature, wetlands and aquatic surveys that independent people come in and study. \u201cGroundwater withdrawals in Michigan are regulated,\u201d she added. Since 2008, in the State of Michigan, all new or increased water withdrawing users must go through the permit process, Anderson-Vincent said. For water bottlers, any increase of more than 138 gallons per minute would require this process. \u201cThere is a higher level of scrutiny set in the State of Michigan groundwater withdrawal laws specific to water bottlers,\u201d she said. \u201cPeople are passionate about their water, but so are we. \u201cThere have been some questions on the permit process to increase the draw capacity on that well. We started monitoring that in 2014 and actually applied for it \u2013 there are two phases you apply for \u2013 in late 2015 and the second phase was applied for in July of 2016. So, we have been monitoring the area for over 16 years. We are very confident. We have slowly increased the permitted capacity of the well over time as we\u2019ve continued to monitor. We have been very diligent. It\u2019s a very robust data set. So we are very confident that the 400 gpm that we are requesting through the state processing is sustainable.\u201d GOOD BUSINESS One of the two Evart's designated wells for Nestl\u00e9 \u2014 "Well 5" \u2014 currently is not being used for spring water bottling operations, Szakacs said, because perchlorate was discovered in testing done by the company. Perchlorate, the city manager said, is the chemical inside industrial fireworks that provides color. The city's well field is located just north and to the east to the fairgrounds, where for years fireworks were shot off. Although not regulated by the DEQ, Szakacs said the company had to stop its use of the well because the chemical is tested by California and Massachusetts, and Nestl\u00e9 sells water in those states. In 2014 and 2015 when tests came back positive for perchlorate, Szakacs said city water customer Collins & Aikman, or Ventra, had installed a water recycling system at its facility in Evart, reducing its water rate of nearly 400,000 gallons of water per year to 75,000 gallons per year. "They were actually taking the perchlorate from the well field," Szakacs said. With the well not being used by Nestl\u00e9, the city manager said it is currently pumping 300 gpm into Twin Creek. \u201cTests being done are showing less of the perchlorate now, as it's being removed,\u201d he said. \u201cWe had public meetings. Those are wellhead protection areas. This process will help us keep the contaminate out of the drinking water, despite it not being regulated by the DEQ. " Szakacs said it is important for the city to do due diligence to make sure the water is safe. "We owe it to all of our customers to do the due diligence on this," he said. "The state makes you maintain a firm capacity and you must provide good, clean, safe, quality water.\u201d Contracted as a city water customer through 2025, the city manager said Nestl\u00e9 recently completed work on a $1.4 million city well with a capacity to pump 1,000 gpm. Just as it made business sense for Evart to have Nestl\u00e9 as a water customer as Ventra's water usage declined, Szakacs said it makes just as much sense for the water bottling company to increase its pumping at the production well in Osceola Township. \u201cBasically, it's a back-up plan for them to use this well until there are no perchlorate readings on Well 5,\u201d he said. \u201cNestle has studied this well for 16 years." Szakacs said the investment Nestl\u00e9 has made to the area can't be overlooked. \u201cThey have created jobs and employment in this area," he said. "They built a plant in Stanwood and they have maintained and even expanded its operations. "They've done their homework on this and have experts to back it up. The DEQ and the State will only let you take out as much as it can be recharged." Officials from the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation did not return multiple attempts to contact them for the organization's stance or concerns about Nestl\u00e9 and its application for the increase. The permits for Ice Mountain\u2019s increased draw, as well as updates on the past public comment period can be found on MDEQ\u2019s website at http:\/\/www.michigan.gov\/deq\/.