By JULIA KASSEM, Staff Columnist
As Flint residents continue to drink, cook and bathe in bottled water in their third year as casualties of austerity policies, Nestlé has expanded its groundwater extraction in Michigan aquifers. Besides a negligible yearly fee and any costs to landowners, the company pays virtually no money to the city to extract groundwater. As the Flint Water crisis continues and less than two years after Detroit’s mass water shutoffs, Nestlé syphoned hundreds of gallons systematically every minute from Michigan aquifers.
In 2001, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued permits to Nestlé to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from aquifers that feed Lake Michigan. Though this resulted in a ten plus year legal standoff between the water bottle company and the residents of Mecosta County, Nestlé still seeks to further expand their facility and maximize their pumping capacity.
“Nestlé Waters North America is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission to increase allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute at one of its production wells north of Evart,” MLive reported last week.
Michigan, a state well accustomed to the pitfalls of emergency management and corporate-driven austerity policies, also suffers from astronomically high water prices in its most affected cities. Flint residents paid the highest water bills nationwide –averaging around $140 a month with one resident paying a whopping $864.32 in 2015.
And just as Michigan is no stranger to austerity policies and experiencing a failure to recognize water as a human right, Nestlé, too, is not new to appropriating municipal water supplies for its own gain. Nestlé is a repeat offender in the context of worldwide water wars. Nestlé continues to drain aquifers in Sacramento, California, purchasing 50 million gallons in 2014. In Maine, Nestlé has sued the town of Fryeburg when its planning commission and citizens repeatedly refused to allow the corporation to tap the tiny town’s local aquifer.
Under the yoke of a state-appointed emergency manager, the City of Flint was never in a position where its elected council could vote on the decision to pump water from the contaminated Flint River. While their vote in March 2013 did switch its pipeline from Detroit to a new one through the Karegnondi Water Authority (a pipeline not expected to be completed for another three years), there was never a vote at any time to specifically derive those water sources from the Flint River.
Michigan obviously has enough on its plate before having to be tested to bear the brunt of yet another imposition of Nestlé’s water wars. Despite its seemingly astronomical sphere of corporate influence, Nestlé has scaled back as it takes on an increasingly defensive position. It has been forced to retreat from its original operation in McCloud, California before moving to Sacramento, forced to cancel a contract that would have given them control of the region’s water supply for 100 years. Bottled water sales are consistently on the decline, and Nestlé has been stopped from operating in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, Kennebunk, Maine, and Enumclaw, Washington.
And Detroit does not have to be resigned to the fate of a multinational that literally had to negotiate its deals in secret in order to syphon and steal municipal water. The residents of Flint and Detroit have been repeatedly oppressed, misinformed, evicted and now poisoned just so, like so many other things, the rich could have a tax break.