Water has been a dominant topic in Michigan politics in recent years, from the Flint water crisis to the controversy over the oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.
There’s another water debate going on in northern Michigan. The Swiss company Nestle wants to boost the amount of water it pumps from a well in Osceola County, south of Cadillac. The water would be bottled under the company’s brand Ice Mountain.
Local leaders and Native American groups are fiercely opposed to the increase, and the effort has been tied up at the state and local level.
Nestle aims to increase its pumping capacity at a well near Evart to 400 gallons per minute, or about 210 million gallons a year, according to MLive reporter Garret Ellison. The company already takes millions of gallons from the area.
“Between 2005 and 2015, according to state data, the company pumped more than 3.4 billion gallons of water from its well fields in Mecosta and Osceola Counties,” Ellison says.
Opponents say increased pumping will harm wetlands and tributaries of the Muskegon River.
But Nestle denies the environmental damage.
“Nestle says they’ve been monitoring this well and watershed, and they are absolutely convinced that their withdrawal rate doesn’t exceed the recharge rate,” Ellison says, “so therefore the withdrawal rate is sustainable, and it’s not going to hurt the wetlands, streams and rivers in the area.”
Other opponents are upset that Nestle does not pay anything to pump water.
"Nestle pays absolutely no fee or tax to withdraw this water," Ellison says. "They just pay $200 a year in paperwork filing fees."
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is currently reviewing Nestle’s application.
Nestle is also locked in a legal battle with Osceola Township, which rejected a request by Nestle to build a new pumping station to handle the increased capacity.
Ellison reported in MLive last week that a judge from Ludington has been assigned to hear the case.