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E-M:/ New Nestlé Water Prospecting Highlights Weaknesses in Water Use Laws

Enviro-Mich message from "Grenetta Thomassey" <grenetta@watershedcouncil.org>

For Immediate Release

January 26, 2007


New Nestlé Water Prospecting Highlights Weaknesses in Water Use Laws


Lansing, Michigan--Lawmakers should take immediate action to reform Michigan's water laws that allow a major international company to threaten state-protected trout streams, leading environmentalists said today in anticipation of a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) decision today.  A "No Adverse Resource Impact Determination" is expected from DEQ for a Nestlé Waters of North America withdrawal in Osceola County. 


Major new and anticipated proposed water withdrawals by Nestlé are likely the beginning of a water export rush and challenge for control over the state's waters, environmental groups said.   Lawmakers must act to protect Michigan's Great Lakes basin or face an explosion of new water projects.


"Drilling for water along our finest trout streams goes against Michigan values," said Mike Shriberg, Director of Environment Michigan.  "When the Legislature enacted new water use laws in 2006, it didn't intend to spark an invasion of trout streams and an attack on basic protections for the Great Lakes."


New proposals before the DEQ reveal Nestlé plans to pump 70 million gallons of spring water annually from natural springs feeding Twin and Chippewa creeks in Osceola County near Evart.  Both are state-protected trout streams flowing into the Muskegon River and the withdrawals would consume more than 4% of the streams' annual flows.  


Nestlé is also expected to seek permission to pump millions of gallons of spring water each month from a site that is the headwaters of the White and Pere Marquette rivers in Newaygo County. Newaygo County residents turned out in protest against the Nestlé project, calling the international water firm a "foreign invader" at a public meeting on January 10.


"The recent Nestlé activity shows that the standard for protection for Michigan's most vulnerable streams is totally inadequate," said David Holtz, Michigan Director of Clean Water Action.  "There is a problem with the law, and it's up to lawmakers to correct it."


Current water laws set a standard of protection for streams that only takes into account the impact of water withdrawals on fish populations.  The groups say this standard is not high enough because it does not take other natural resource impacts into consideration, and it does not allow for drought or changing circumstances in the future.  This standard assumes that water not directly used by fish is available for water prospecting, which defies the ecological maxim that every drop of water is used by natural ecosystems.

"The case against Nestlé that is currently before the Michigan Supreme Court demonstrated that for two summers, stream flows were very low, and the pumping caused serious impacts," said Terry Swier, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. "We have to get meaningful standards in place to protect the ecosystems that are hydrologically linked to any groundwater being taken.  Michigan's water should not be free for the taking by multi-national corporations."


Anyone making significant water withdrawals that are below the levels required for permits (250,000 gallons per day) may petition the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to review their project for a $5,000 fee, according to the new laws.  If appropriate, DEQ will issue a "Determination of No Adverse Resource Impact" for the project, and the first such determination is expected today for the Nestlé project in Osceola County near Evart.


Nestlé requested a DEQ review in August 2006 for the Evart site, using a petition process from the new water laws.  Public notice was not provided by the DEQ until December, however, giving only 30 days for the public to review extensive technical data.  The petition process is not required by statute to include public comment, but DEQ has the discretion to solicit comments and hold hearings.  These groups asked DEQ to extend the public comment period, which DEQ has agreed to, but the determination of no adverse impact will still be issued by the required deadline.  DEQ will consider comments that come in before March 15 for any future activity at this site, but that does not impact this petition.


"This petition process is being implemented for the first time, and the lack of opportunity for public input was startling," said Grenetta Thomassey, Policy Director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. "While we commend DEQ for accepting comments, water is a public resource and public comments and hearings on any water withdrawals should be required in statute.  Until that is corrected, DEQ should set policy that includes enough time for the public to thoughtfully review and comment, and provide opportunities for public hearings." 




David Holtz, Michigan Director, Clean Water Action, 313-300-4454

Terry Swier, President, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, 231-972-8856

James Clift, Policy Director, Michigan Environmental Council, 517-487-6266

Mike Shriberg, Director, Environment Michigan, 734-662-9797

Grenetta Thomassey, Policy Director, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, 231-347-1181 ext. 115

Rita Jack, Water Sentinels Project, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, 517-484-2372

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