News that Nestlé Waters North America would have new owners — One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co. — made waves, at first.
Environmental advocates and plain old Michiganders alike excitedly pondered the possibilities. Could our state finally pull the plug on its unfathomable “deal” that allows the water bottling company to suck up and sell state water for millions of dollars a year in return for a measly $200 paperwork fee?
But state officials snuffed hope under a wet bureaucratic blanket.
The permit “is transferable to the new owner,” Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Strategic Communications Advisor Scott Dean told Bridge Michigan, a nonprofit news organization, last week.
Challenges to the permit were dismissed in November on a technicality — Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians erred in not appealing the permit directly to circuit court — and the withdraws are “reasonable,” the state found.
They couldn’t renegotiate fees even if they wanted to, said EGLE head Liesl Eichler Clark in her dismissal.
“We appreciate the calls from the petitioners and other members of the public for water withdrawal royalties on bottled water payable to the state, but that is currently outside of EGLE’s statutory authority,” Clark said. “EGLE supports the calls from lawmakers to take action to prevent private parties from profiting off our state’s water resources.”
We have been confused about this deal from the get-go. We’ve examined it from every angle, like a gemologist appraising a precious stone. In this case, our precious resource is our water — water increasingly under threat.
We look at the stream of state leaders who’ve blessed this arrangement, which allowed Nestle, and now its new owners, to pump up to 400 gallons a minute from its wells. The increase, up from 250 gallons a minute, initially started in the Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on changing things, even invoking social justice issues of water in Flint and Detroit.
“It’s ridiculous that Nestle can pull as much water out of the state as they want for barely any fee while dozens of communities in Michigan don’t have clean drinking water,” she told Great Lakes Now before she was elected in 2018, referencing “bottled water” in her campaign action issues.
But today, she, her EGLE appointees and Michigan’s Legislature appear to have washed their hands of the issue.
We’re not alone in wondering what’s the deal: Bridge Michigan’s count of public comments on the permit number 80,945 against to 75 in favor.
We believe our leaders can do more for Michigan.
The company — based in Stamford, Conn., with more than 7,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada — sources water from 38 active springs throughout the United States. Surely coalitions can be forged with other states and the 230 communities possibly in the same boat?
With new ownership in play, our leaders need to stand up for our state’s water.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE