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MDEQ Approves Nestle Ground Water Withdrawal Permit

Paul Bohn, Esq.

On Monday, April 2, the MDEQ granted Nestle a controversial large scale water removal permit. The request asked the department for the ability to increase the rate at which the company withdrawals groundwater from their Osceola County well. Nestle is currently pumping 250 gallons per minute from the well, and requested an increase to 400 gallons per minute. Nestle submitted their application arguing that the volume increase wouldn't have any "measureable effects" on wetland ecology. However, that stance is undermined by a study that indicates the well is above an underground aquifer system that could present a greater impact on wetland ecology than originally anticipated. Many are concerned that a permit of this magnitude ignores the responsibility that should be shown towards Michigan's natural resources.

The permit requires Nestle to follow several stipulations in order to begin increasing their withdrawal volume. Monitoring and quality assurance plans must be submitted and approved by the MDEQ before the changes can take effect. Opponents of the permit want to know who will be doing the monitoring. Will it be an independent party, or the company themselves? This is important to many, as they feel an independent party is necessary to avoid conflict of interest. If monitoring plans show an adverse impact on the environment, Nestle would be required to return the volume to 250 gallons per minute.

The controversial nature of this decision has resulted in many views on the issue. Among those views is the difficulty understanding why the MDEQ made a determination on the permit request without stipulating that an independent party must conduct the monitoring plan. Others have voiced concern over whether this decision could set a damaging precedent for future decisions. The permit approval generates fear that other bottling companies may see this as an opportunity to take advantage of Michigan's substantial water supply.

Additionally, passage of House Bill 5638 would exempt much of the monitoring data from FOIA requests. Although that bill has not been passed to date, passage would create a significant lack of transparency on these issues.

Do you think the MDEQ decision will create adverse impacts on wetland ecology, or are there significant benefits that outweigh the potential risks of the decision?

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