A large and vocal crowd of people are concerned about Nestle Waters' request to increase its water pumping capacity near Evart. They showed up at FSU's University Center on Wednesday night to participate in the Department of Environmental Quality's public hearing on the matter. The hearing was expected to end around 9:00 pm but went well beyond.
A number of people, most of them Nestle employees, spoke in favor of granting the permit, but the majority voiced opposition to it. It was pointed out that the DEQ may be basing their decision on information from Nestle which, they say, depends on computer modeling, rather than real-time measurements in the field. Nestle has been pumping water from the Evart well for about 12 years. Maryanne Borden, who has lived on or around Twin Creek (which runs through Evart) for some 70 years, says something has happened.
“There hasn't been any significant change in that creek in all those decades. Today, that creek struggles to get around huge mud flats in the middle of the creek. I don't know what kind of science you could tell me that would explain what's happened there. Something drastic has happened there,” she says.
A lot of the comments voiced maintained that water is a human right and should not be sold as a commodity for corporate profit. Many said they didn't understand why Nestle should be allowed to take millions of gallons of water from Michigan for a $200 DEQ fee while many residents are charged thousands of dollars each year for a small fraction of that amount.
Many also believe the DEQ is failing to protect Michigan's natural resources for the people both in Mecosta County and across the state, such as Sylvia Orduño of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.
“And when I'm talking to people out in the hallway they're [DEQ officials] telling me, 'Well this isn't our responsibility, you've got to go to your elected officials.' No! You have been entrusted with this responsibility from the federal government and you need to do your job.”
Those who came to the hearing were from across the state and some were from out of state. Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba was there as was State Representative Michele Hoitenga. Hoitenga said she was still unsure of her stance on the issue but planned to make a decision after the hearing. Michigan gubernatorial candidate Bill Cobbs also made an appearance and spoke against the permit as well.
Nestle Natural Resource Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent says they need the increased capacity because of the market.
“Bottled water sales in the mid-west and across the nation are growing so we're applying for an increase to help us support our future growth and our customer demand,” she says.
Although the hearing was the only pubic hearing the DEQ has had on the Nestle request, DEQ Public Information Officer Melody Kindraka says it's obvious it's caught the attention of a lot of people.
“We've received nearly 50,000 comments about the particular permit application so far. The majority of those comments have expressed some concerns about the environmental impact and also some water use rights and the quality of the water,” she says.
The DEQ says all public comments received will be given equal attention and will be answered. A report on their response will be made available on the MDEQ web site. The public comment period is open until 5:00 pm on April 21st and comments and may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by regular mail to:
MDEQ, Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division
Environmental Health Section
P.O Box 30421
Lansing, MI 48909-7741