Swiss company Nestle has been criticized for its plan to take more water out of northern Michigan. Opponents say the company wants to take too much water from the area – and an increase in pumping will degrade streams and wetlands. But the company denies the allegations.
Nestle pumps from wells near the Muskegon River for its bottled water brand Ice Mountain. The company has applied with the state to boost pumping at a well in Osceola County – south of Cadillac – to 400 gallons per minute.
“Our interest is to ensure that the local ecosystems are properly managed and continue to thrive,” says Arlene Anderson-Vincent, the natural resource manager for Nestle’s Ice Mountain.
“We’ve been operating here now for over 15 years, and what’s important in our application is we’ve conducted science from day one,” Anderson-Vincent says. “We’ve done extensive studies on the groundwater systems, the aquifers, their connection to the surface water, and the local ecosystems.”
Environmental groups say Nestle’s proposal would lead to ecological distress, and are challenging the company's permit application with the state.
“Four-hundred gallons per minute … is more than our headwater watersheds can take,” says Traverse City attorney Jim Olson. “It’s too much.”
Olson, who is president of the Traverse City environmental group For Love of Water, was part of a similar effort against Nestle several years ago. It led to the company reducing the pumping rate at a different well in northern Michigan.
Olson says the proposed increase in Osceola County could cause similar harm to the environment. He predicts stream levels would drop, which would negatively affect fish habitat and area wetlands.
“It may be there’s some level that can be permitted,” Olson says. “It certainly, in our view, will not be 400 gallons per minute.”
Anderson-Vincent says Nestle is responding to an increase in consumer demand for bottled water.
“Consumers are drinking more water, choosing a healthier lifestyle, so we’re trying to meet that demand,” Anderson-Vincent says.
The company is touting a study conducted by Lansing firm Public Sector Consultants that shows the economic impact of Ice Mountain. The study, which was released last month, says Ice Mountain employs 280 people and contributes $161 million to the Michigan economy.
Nestle’s efforts to boost the pumping rate have been held up at the state and local levels.
State officials are currently reviewing the company’s application to determine if the increase would cause environmental harm or not.
At the local level, Nestle is in a legal battle with Osceola Township. Township leaders stopped Nestle from building a new pumping station to handle the increased capacity. A state judge has been assigned to hear the case.