Water is Life: Defending Flint’s Water Source

The Great Lakes Basin straddles the border between the United States and Canada, encompassing the largest surface freshwater system on Earth; only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water. At a time when a lack of investment in public water infrastructure has led to disaster in nearby Flint, Michigan, opposing the rise of corporate ownership over water sources and bottling is critical to protecting our right to clean, affordable water for all. Nestlé Waters of North America identified this region as a prime target for water bottling in the late 1990s, and its presence has served as a source of contention with locals ever since.

In Michigan, Nestlé came to Evart, in Mecosta County looking to take advantage of the lakes and streams connecting with the Muskegon River, which eventually flows to Lake Michigan. In 2001 and 2002 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued permits granting the company access to pump 400 gallons a minute from the Muskegon aquifer, and Nestlé’s factory began producing Ice Mountain water bottles soon after.

The Muskegon aquifer is an important source of water that feeds the Great Lakes Basin and also qualifies as “spring water,” two prized words Nestlé eagerly seeks to stamp on its bottles’ labels. This network of lakes and rivers provides a highly valued water resource for residents, animals, agriculture, recreation, and more. Nestlé’s decision to bottle and sell Michigan’s water for no more than a $200 annual fee combined with little oversight or environmental analysis by the MDEQ quickly became a legal battle.

In 2009, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation won their 10-year lawsuit against Nestlé with a settlement that capped the amount of water Nestlé could pump and determined that Nestlé underestimated the harm aquifer over-pumping causes to adjacent surface waters, wetlands, fish, and aquatic life. Unfortunately, the battle for control over Michigan’s water is still ongoing today as Nestlé has once again requested to increase its take of Michigan water at a well in nearby Osceola County. With our partners at FLOW and other local groups, the Story of Stuff Project is closely tracking the permit review process and helping to spread the word.

(Listen to this short radio interview that covers Nestlé’s role in privatizing Michigan’s water. “While Flint waits, Nestlé pumps Michigan water on the cheap”.)

Across the border in Ontario, Canada, we are also following Nestlé’s movements with our partners at Council of Canadians. Nestlé recently bought its latest Ontario well in Elora, despite the municipality’s attempt to purchase the well itself in order to safeguard their local water supply. In response to local resistance movements, Ontario’s government imposed a two year moratorium on all new and expanded permits to pump groundwater sources for water bottling. Unfortunately, Nestlé will be able to apply to renew its water-taking permits. While the moratorium is a positive first step, we support broader restrictions and stronger support for safeguarding local water supplies from privatization. We are hard at work, along with our partners in the Great Lakes Basin, to not only hold Nestlé accountable, but also to push for stronger water protections.

The good news? Our new movie will shine a light on this important region, and make a strong case for clean, safe, affordable water for Flint, Evart, and everyone everywhere. So what are you waiting for? Join us today!

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