Ice Mountain wants to pull twice as much water from Michigan well

Ice Mountain bottled water is Pure Michigan. It comes from state's springs, is bottled in Stanwood, Michigan, and almost all of it is consumed within a 250 mile radius of the plant. Now, they want to expand and take even more water from the ground to sell to consumers.

The Great Lakes that surround Michigan are the largest freshwater source on the planet. It's also a reason that Nestle settled Ice Mountain here.

Tucked into Amish country, about 50 miles north of Grand Rapids, is the Stanwood Ice Mountain bottling facility. There, water that comes from fresh water springs in three west Michigan towns fills plastic bottles.

One of those is a well in Evart. Nestle wants to double what they're already pulling from there. The reason? Demand, according to Nelson Switzer, VP Chief Sustainability Officer Nestle Waters North America.

"Consumers are looking for more Ice Mountain Spring Water," Switzer said.

To do that, they're asking to increase production from 250 gallons of water a minute to 400 gallons per minute.

They don't pay the state for what they pull, they pay the city. Evart owns the well and they have an arrangement with Ice Mountain where the city gets $2.37 for every 1,000 gallons they pump out.

"They always sound like big numbers I mean when you are talking numbers like that. But the reality is when you think of the actual ground water system from which these springs flow it is so small.  We are actually one of the smallest industrial users of water of any industry," Switzer said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality backs that up. Bottled water accounted for 0.3 percent of groundwater use in the state. By comparison, agricultural irrigation for example uses 45 % of the same groundwater.

"Relative to other large withdrawals in the state it's actually relatively small," Bryce Feighner with MDEQ said

Feighner will have the final say on whether or not the company can increase production. Ever since the company announced plans to expand, critics have objected.

"We've received up to 13,000 comments so far. Most of them objecting to the concept of bottled water and something they don't believe should not be done," Feighner said.

That includes the Clean Water Action group.

"They want to double down. They want to take more than twice the amount of water - almost 400 gallons a minute. That’s really hard for us to put into context," Nick Cannon said.

Nestle says it may not be all about customer demand from that one well. The company says another well in Evart was shut and claims it was tainted with chemicals from firework ash after years of 4th of July displays.

But will the additional pull of ground water be too much for the ecosystem?

"We will not operate if the aquifer is not sustainable," Switzer said.

Nestle says it's bad for business if they use up all the water. They claim science is on their side and even confirmed it by a third party.

"We pay them to do that but they are well respected firms. They are staking their reputation on it," Arlene Anderson-Vincent, Nestle Waters Natural Resources Manager, said.

This commissioned study shows the water supply in the area replenishes rapidly with little-to-no long term effects on the eco-system. Still, is it right for a 'for profit' company to pump out water at a rate twice as fast as they are now?  Environmental groups argue we may not know the answer until it's too late to turn back,

"There is a reason why the DEQ was created and it's to put checks and balances on industry," Cannon said.

The DEQ is handcuffed in some regards - they have to make the decision based on the law.

"We can't make our decisions based on popular opinion. We make our decision based on what the statute says we have to look at," Feighner said.

Basically, there are two factors when considering the decision: is the water safe to drink and will it negatively impact the environment. That second part is what's up for debate and that's the DEQ is asking for your comments.

The DEQ extended the public comment from 45 days to 9 months and you have until March 3 to have your questions and concerns heard. Email them at deq-eh@michigan.gov to let them know your thoughts.
 


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