BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Close to 500 people turned out Wednesday evening for a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hearing on a bottled water company’s request to increase its groundwater pumping from a well in Osceola County.
Nestle Waters North America, Inc. announced in November a $36 million expansion of its Ice Mountain plant in Mecosta County. As part of the expansion, the company is asking to increase the capacity of water it is allowed to pull from its White Pines Springs site near Evart from 250 gallons to 400 gallons per minute.
The company says the increase may have minor effects on wetlands and stream flows but not enough to be harmful. Environmentalists say the proposed increase is excessive.
“Our members are finding problems with their wells, their ponds are drying up their associated wetlands, changing character, and all of this only after the withdrawal of 150-250 gallons per minute,” argued Peggy Case, the president for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.
The majority of the 471 people who packed a hall at Ferris State University in Big Rapids for the hearing did not want the MDEQ to approve Nestle’s request. One person suggested that if the MDEQ OKs it anyway, residents should file for an injunction to stop it.
Three people, two of whom work for the company, spoke in favor of the permit.
“In our opinion Ice Mountain is an exemplary corporate citizen in our region and has demonstrated a track record,” Mecosta County Development Corporation President Jim Sandy said in front of the crowd.
Those opposed had varying reasons, but one woman said the MDEQ must pick between Nestle’s profits and a proper water supply for future generations.
Nestle started its bottling operation in 2001 at a pumping rate of 150 gallons per minute, according to the state. A cumulative increase to pumping more than 200,000 gallons per day requires state approval, according to the MDEQ.
Last month, MDEQ announced it was extending the public comment deadline to April 21 at 5 p.m. to give department staff enough time to prepare the draft permit. So far, MDEQ says it has received about 50,000 comments and 340,000 signatures for a petition against the increase of water.
“Certainly we’re gonna work through this as quickly as possible, but obviously the volume of information we’re receiving both from Nestle and the public comments simply take time to get through,” said Melody Kindraka, an MDEQ public information officer.
MDEQ officials say they are still looking into if the water is going to be safe to drink, as well as if there would be a negative impact to the resources and water shed in the area. They hope to have a decision on Nestle’s application in the next couple of months.
Written comments about the project to the DEQ can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to:
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
P.O. Box 30241
Lansing, MI 48909-7741
Wednesday night, Nestle released this statement about the MDEQ hearing:
“We thank the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for holding a public hearing to give people an opportunity to express their opinions about our White Pine Springs permit application. The information session preceding the public hearing also provided important facts regarding our application.
“Although people cite various reasons in opposition to our request for additional water withdrawals, and we differ with their conclusions, we do agree on one essential point. Like you, Ice Mountain, and our parent company Nestlé Waters North America, have a deep commitment to the state, people and natural resources of Michigan. We have made a long-term investment in Michigan, and take great care to operate in a responsible and sustainable way to preserve and protect our shared water sources and the surrounding environment for generations to come.
“Our pending application is based on over 15 years of extensive studies and regular monitoring of groundwater, surface water and the local ecosystem. Our network of more than 100 monitoring points allows us to predict with great certainty both the immediate and long-term effects of the proposed withdrawal. This monitoring network allows us to verify that the groundwater is being naturally replenished and that our water use is managed for long-term sustainability.
“We also contribute significantly to the economic well-being of the communities where we do business and to the state as a whole. Since our operations began in Michigan we have made investments of about $270 million, much of which goes toward ensuring the sustainability of the water system, including the monitoring points, the scientists who do the monitoring, and everyone involved in taking good care of the groundwater supplies. We offer high-paying jobs with good benefits to our employees and have an annual payroll of over $19 million. Ice Mountain is one of the largest employers in the Mecosta / Osceola area with around 270 full-time employees and around 25 seasonal employees. Another $20 million in annual spending supports Michigan-based vendor companies.
“Again, we thank the MDEQ and everyone who participated in the public hearing. We support the MDEQ commitment to a careful, thorough and transparent review of the permit application.”