A state permit allowing Nestle to boost the amount of groundwater it pumps in Michigan has been formally challenged.
The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) filed a May 31 petition to contest the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permit in state administrative court.
The group, which previously sued Nestle over its water withdrawals in Michigan, claims the state did not follow the law when it conditionally blessed Nestle’s bid to withdrawal more water from a well drawing from a spring aquifer in Osceola County.
The group wants a formal trial-like hearing with expert witnesses before a state administrative law judge, but says its prepared to litigate the case in the judicial court system.
The challenge has been anticipated since April, when the MCWC issued a formal letter requiring the state and Nestle preserve documents that could be relevant to a legal case.
The group contends the DEQ improperly allowed Nestle to increase the water withdrawal rate on its White Pine Springs well near Evart in 2009 and 2015 — increases that occurred without public review because they were below the required legal threshold.
In those approvals and its review of Nestle’s request to max out pumping at 400 gallons-per-minute on the well, the MCWC says the DEQ failed to obtain data on existing conditions in the field and, instead, relied on Nestle-supplied data and computer models.
“The state must not get away with ignoring its public trust responsibilities and illegally granting Nestle the water of the commons to convert to private profit at the expense of our environment and our use,” said MCWC President Peggy Case, of Traverse City.
Nestle spokesperson Arlene Anderson-Vincent said the company has the “highest degree of confidence in the more than 16 years of scientific data supporting our application.”
“We have always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of laws that protect the environment and are committed to helping ensure the sustainability of Michigan’s natural resources,” she said.
Before Nestle can boost the pumping rate, the DEQ must approve a plan to monitor local wetlands and the health of two trout streams fed by the aquifer Nestle taps for water it bottles under the Ice Mountain spring brand in Stanwood.
The DEQ called its review “the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal permit in Michigan history.”
DEQ said Friday its legal team had not seen the new petition yet.
The permit decision and preceding deliberations caused an uproar among Michigan citizens, particularly those living in Flint and Detroit — two Michigan cities where residents have separately struggled with water safety and affordability.
A week after announcing issuance of the Nestle’s permit, the state said it was ending bottled water supply to Flint residents because testing showed improved water quality. Both decisions, while legal, have been widely panned in and outside of Michigan.
Nestle subsequently pledged to donate 4,200 cases of water a week to Flint until Labor Day.
Michigan law allows Nestle to withdrawal groundwater from underneath its property for free provided the extraction doesn’t harm the environment or dry up neighboring wells. The company pays an annual $200 paperwork fee for each in-state facility.
A separate local zoning case between Nestle and Osceola Township related to water pipeline infrastructure serving the controversial wellhead is pending at the state court of appeals.
The DEQ’s April 2 approval of Nestle’s permit is highly unpopular with people in Michigan and elsewhere. Of the more than 80,000 comments submitted, only 75 were in support of Nestle.
The case has generated significant national and global attention, and re-ignited a debate about Michigan groundwater water use policy.
“We anticipate that those organizations and individuals who work as defenders of Michigan’s water commons will assist us in paying the bills for this contested permit,” Case said.