FLINT, MICHIGAN – Despite the outrage from residents, Nestlé — the world’s largest food and beverage company — has just been granted the right by the state of Michigan to vastly expand its Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water plant in the town of Stanwood, allowing the company to increase the amount of water it pumps from the town’s aquifer from 250 to 400 gallons per minute. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), despite opposition from experts and residents alike, asserted that the new permit granted to Nestlé met the requirements of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.
C. Heidi Grether, the director of the DEQ, remarked that the department had undertaken “the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history” in order to determine if the bottled water plant’s operation presented a threat to the surrounding ecosystem and the sustainability of the aquifer.
Under the new permit, Nestlé will continue to pay just $200 annually in administrative fees for its use of this critical resource, which is in short supply in the state of Michigan.
The news was received bitterly by state residents, particularly in cities like Flint where a major water crisis, which began in 2014 and resulted in high levels of lead being found in the city’s drinking water, remains unresolved. Though water quality in city has improved considerably, as water filters and the replacement of some pipes have helped reduce lead levels in the water, residents are still unauthorized to drink from their taps.
As a result, residents of Flint are largely forced to depend on bottled water provided to them by the state. The commitment is expensive, costing the state an average of $22,000 a day for the water alone (that is, exclusive of labor and distribution costs).
Nestlé’s bottled water operation is a sore point for Flint residents in particular, as the company’s bottled water plant lies just 120 miles from the city and could easily resolve the city’s water woes were it not held by private interests.
Nestlé, which earns more than $7 billion in profits from water sales alone, has paid only $200 per year for its use of that aquifer. Many Flint residents, in contrast, have been charged $200 per month in fees for water they are not even authorized to use.
Watch | Nestle Pumps Water For Free As Flint Residents Suffer From Lead Poisoning ‘Genocide’
Snyder administration in the bottle for Nestlé
The decision to grant Nestlé’s expansion of its Ice Mountain plant overturns a decision taken by the local government of the Osceola township, where the plant is located. Last April, the township voted unanimously to reject Nestlé’s request to increase the amount of water it pumps. However, that rejection – after a lengthy legal battle — was overturned by on appeal at both county and state levels. In other words, the state’s approval to expand the Nestlé plant was not just done in spite of opposition from residents, it was a complete rejection of the authority of local governments to govern the use of their own resources.
The state government’s rejection of township and environmental concerns in granting the permit has again drawn attention to the administration of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. In addition to being blamed for the decisions that led to the Flint water crisis, Snyder’s government was previously criticized for ties to Nestlé — as Snyder’s recently retired chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, is married to the Michigan spokeswoman for Nestlé bottled water.
Though Muchmore has left his position, Nestlé ties in the Snyder administration persist. Muchmore’s replacement, Jarrod Agen, is married to Betina Incián-Agen, who is senior vice president of Mercury LLC — a public relations firm whose parent company, Omnicom, counts Nestlé among its clients. Snyder hired Mercury LLC in 2016, soon after Agen’s appointment, to help his administration manage the Flint water crisis.
Nestlé’s pumping of groundwater against the wishes of local residents is not a phenomenon exclusive to Michigan – it happens regularly across the United States. From California to Maine, Nestlé has purchased key water resources across the country, privatizing them and taking them out of the hands of residents who depend on those resources for their drinking water.
At a time when the drinking water of hundreds of millions of Americans is contaminated with toxic chemicals, Nestlé’s ability to continue using clean drinking water resources for its own profitable ends is a travesty — a travesty that has been fully enabled by the government at the expense of the people.
Top Photo | Members of the Michigan National Guard load Nestle owned Ice Mountain bottled water at a fire station, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 in Flint, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.