Nestle Waters North America, who currently bottles 270 million gallons of water in Michigan under the Ice Mountain label each year, is seeking to expand its water bottling operations in Michigan. According to an article in the Muskegon Chronicle, Nestle wants approval from the state to pump an additional 70 million gallons of spring water from the headwaters of two trout streams (Chippewa and Twin Creeks) that flow into the Muskegon River near Evart in Osceola County. The company is also considering seeking permission to pump “millions of gallons” of water from a site in Newaygo County’s Monroe Township at the headwaters of the White and Pere Marquette rivers. The White River is a state-designated “Natural River” and the Pere Marquette River is a federally-designated “Wild and Scenic River,” both of which are therefore given greater legal protections than other Michigan rivers. Nestle–who admits pumping water at the Evart site will reduce the flow of the Muskegon River by 70 million gallons per year–claims that their water operation will not affect the environment. Nestle also is considering building a second water bottling plant in the state, possibly in Evart, a city northeast of Big Rapids as well as investigating four additional sites in Newaygo and Wexford counties.
The proposed expansion sites would be a significant increase in water bottling operations in Michigan, which are currently centered around a water bottling plant operated by Nestle/Ice Mountain in Mecosta County. From that plant, Nestle makes millions of dollars annually while selling the Michigan’s water resources despite the fact that water exists as a type of commons owned by the people and that “the human right to drinking water is fundamental to life and health” according to the United Nations. <nestle has made millions privatizing Michigan’s water while paying nothing for the state’s water. According to reporting in LiP Magazine, Nestle pays minimal rent on a 99-year lease it signed with the owner of a hunting preserve on which the plant is located and a reported $85 annual well fee. As water has been bottled and sold by Nestle, some 45,000 Detroit residents have had their water shutoff over the past three years for failing to pay their water bills. The state of Michigan has failed to provide subsidies for low-income residents in Detroit who face high utility bills of all kind–not just water–while it gave $9.6 million in tax breaks to Nestle.
Before Nestle/Ice Mountain began pumping water in Michigan, it was greeted by a vibrant campaign against water privatization that consisted of community organizing, protests, direct action, and legal challenges. The campaign, which ultimately failed to stop Nestle/Ice Mountain, did manage to limit the amount of water that Nestle could pump pending ongoing litigation. This happened despite a campaign of government intimidation after the Earth Liberation Front attempted to burn down a pumping station used by Nestle in Rodney, Michigan. The resistance to water privatization has been worldwide and has been strong in the Midwest where activists and resident in Wisconsin and Michigan have organized to stop the privatization of the region’s freshwater. While no specific plans have been announced to challenge the plan by groups such as Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation or the Sweetwater Alliance, people can always boycott Nestle products and make plans to participate in the public comment process on the proposed pumping sites. According to an email from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is expected to make a decision on the proposal in January of 2007 and then accept public comment. Nestle/Ice Mountain is going to explain their plans publicly at a meeting on January 10 at Monroe Township Hall.