EVART, MI – The company formerly known as Nestlé Waters North America has handed over a controversial permit to extract Michigan groundwater for bottling and plans to reduce its withdrawal enough to avoid the extensive environmental scrutiny that will cause it to be bottled. accompanied.
In a letter of September 28, Blue Triton Brands has told the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) that it “will not use” the permit its predecessor obtained in 2018 following a thorough examination this was prompted by public outcry over the company’s plans to increase groundwater extraction in Osceola County.
The permit, granted under section 17 of the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act, allowed Nestlé to increase its extraction from White Pine Springs wells from 250 to 400 gallons per minute ( gpm) once the company has developed a comprehensive plan to monitor groundwater levels, stream flows, wetlands, aquatic life and habitat in the surrounding watershed.
This permit is linked to a slow legal challenge for several years and Nestlé never increased the pumping rate before selling its US bottled water division for $ 4.3 billion to One Rock Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm who rebranded the company as Blue Triton.
According to its letter, Blue Triton would instead pump at 288 gpm, a decrease that allows the company to bypass oversight requirements and cross a lower regulatory bar that involves modeling mining on a computer rather than taking action. in the field.
Blue Triton’s new 288 gpm mining has already surpassed the state’s computer model, the Water withdrawal assessment tool, according to EGLE. The company has until March 28, 2023 to install a new pump or the approval expires. Once installed, Blue Triton can begin pumping at the new rate, which equates to 414,720 gallons per day at full capacity.
EGLE indicates that the annual withdrawal limit is 20,059,039 gallons.
The new extraction is not subject to legal requirements stipulating approval from EGLE’s drinking water division, according to the letter sent by Arlene Anderson-Vincent to Blue Triton’s Ice Mountain bottling plant in Stanwood.
Blue Triton this week issued a brief statement through a public relations firm, saying it is “currently able to obtain sufficient water from existing sources.”
“BlueTriton will not use the additional capacity authorized under the approved Section 17 license at this time. We appreciate the hard work of staff at the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy throughout the permit review process.
A Michigan activist group that opposes water privatization and has been fighting various Nestlé withdrawals for more than 20 years says Blue Triton has asked them to drop an ongoing legal challenge to the controversial permit .
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) are currently awaiting an appeal decision from an Ingham County judge on whether they have standing to challenge the permit in a state administrative court. EGLE dismissed the group’s appeal this year after an administrative judge upheld the permit approval, which was granted by former Gov. Rick Snyder and then defended by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.
Peggy Case, president of the MCWC, said Blue Triton appears to be attempting a “total reset” of the Nestlé controversy.
Case said the group was happy with the lower extraction rate, “but certainly not happy that they are pumping even more than they already are.”
Even at 250 gpm, Case said the well reduced the volume of water in Twin and Chippewa creeks, two cold-water tributaries of the Muskegon River. The headwaters for both streams are near the company’s well, located in Osceola Township northwest of Evart.
The well feeds the Ice Mountain spring water brand. According to federal labeling rules, “spring water” must come from a shallow aquifer that drains to the surface.
The MCWC says both streams are lower and mudflats have worsened in a Chippewa Creek impoundment area since Nestlé increased well extraction from 150 to 250 gpm in 2015.
In 2009, the group won a settlement in a lawsuit against Nestlé that limited the company’s extraction at another wellfield, Sanctuary Springs, in Mecosta County, to 218 gpm.
“They always pump rivers dry,” Case said. “We have our own physical evidence, but it’s not enough for anyone. We don’t have any credentials, so they ignore us and go back to their computer models.
In February, Nestlé unloaded its US division of bottled water in the midst of a to slow down in market growth after a boom in recent years as consumers shifted away from soda, as well as a growing concern with the assembly of single-use plastic waste created by the manufacture of beverages.
Nestlé invested $ 36 million in the expansion of the Ice Mountain bottling plant in 2016, anticipating easy regulatory approvals to increase groundwater extraction. Instead, news of the company’s plans generated an intense backlash that forced the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ, now known as EGLE) to back down and pass the permit application under the microscope.
Nestlé’s business model has drawn widespread criticism in the wake of the Flint water crisis and water cuts in Detroit for residents who could not pay their utility bills. The company does not pay royalties or royalties on groundwater extracted in Michigan. Instead, the company pays an administrative fee of $ 200 per establishment. It also pays the standard municipal tariff for water in Evart, a small town in Osceola County.
The permit controversy is separate but linked to a local zoning dispute between Nestlé and the Township of Osceola, which hampered Nestlé’s plans to build new distribution infrastructure needed to bring additional water from White Pine Springs to its bottling plant. The township refused approval to build a booster station to increase the pressure in a water pipeline. The Michigan Court of Appeals sided with the township in 2019, dismissing Nestlé’s argument that bottled water met the zoning definition of an “essential public service.”
Blue Triton’s brand portfolio includes the Poland Spring brand in Maine, the Deer Park brand in Maryland, the Ozarka brand in Texas, the Arrowhead brand in California and the Zephyr Hills brand in Florida. The Connecticut-based company has 27 production facilities in North America and sources water from 38 active sources across the country.
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