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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Nestlé's water pumping harmful to Michigan

Saturday, January 05, 2008
By Terry Swier
Special To The Press

I am writing to set the record straight on the harm done to Michigan's waters by Nestlé water mining operations. When the guest column, "Nestlé success in Michigan in spotlight" by Nestlé Vice President of Corporate Affairs Heidi Paul in The Grand Rapids Press was being read Dec. 12, I was testifying in front of the U.S. Congress.

I am the president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC). I was on the same panel as Ms. Paul, testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Domestic Policy Subcommittee Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and was asked many of the same questions. Ms. Paul stated that Nestlé's pumping is good for Michigan, and the company has caused no harm.

Courts have determined otherwise. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation won on this point in all three courts in the case MCWC v Nestlé.
The finding of fact that Nestle would cause substantial harm at levels lower than they are pumping now, was made by the Mecosta County Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals, and affirmed by the Michigan Supreme Court when it rejected Nestlé's argument that the findings were in error.

A picture of the mudflat at Dead Stream was projected on the walls at the hearing. As stated in my written testimony, before pumping, there was water in the stream, even during natural low flows and levels. Sound science, considered and argued over during 19 days of trial in MCWC's case, found Nestlé's pumping at 400 gallons per minute would reduce stream flow by 24 percent, drop levels by 2 to 4 inches, and drop the levels of two lakes by 4 inches to 6 inches.
The findings can be found in Judge Lawrence Root's opinion following the bench trial. The stream has narrowed and wetland edges and bottomlands have been invaded by plant species. Nestlé did not halt pumping. Where is Nestlé's "good neighbor" policy?

At the hearing, Congressman Dennis Kucinich asked witness Dr. David Hyndman about the picture, and asked if beaver dams had anything to do with the harm of Dead Stream. Dr. Hyndman testified, as the courts agreed, that the beaver dams had nothing to do with low levels on Dead Stream. He testified that the low levels were caused by Nestlé's pumping during low flow or growing season when the stream is most vulnerable.
Nestle continues to claim there is no harm. Nestle continues to present itself as just another business using a little water. Instead, this is water mining, pure and simple -- at the expense of the public and at enormous profit to Nestlé. No amount of Nestlé bubbly talk can obscure that fact.

Nestlé also recently argued to the Michigan Supreme Court that citizens have no right to bring a lawsuit to protect wetlands or lakes on Nestlé's own property, even though it has been undisputed that their water resources are protected by state laws.

MCWC believes much of what it has done and stands for is supported by a majority of citizens in Michigan and the Great Lakes. Many citizens oppose the removal of water for export and sale as water, because this converts water under public control to private control and profit without adequate consideration of the public trust, the environment or an accounting for a substantial subsidy of a private exporter without public purpose.

Every gallon extracted as "spring water" as it appears on the label of Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottles, extracts a gallon of water that would otherwise feed a wetland, stream or lake. The diminishment of flow and level causes significant adverse impacts to these water bodies and their habitat and wildlife.

Water grabbers, like Nestlé, undermine the interest of our sixth-generation residents who live in Mecosta, on its lakes and streams; the public that fishes, boats, swims and enjoys our lakes and streams; farmers who rely on our groundwater; industry and our economy that are so dependent on our water, and the environment and public trust.
Our water is our heritage and our culture. It must be protected for our future generations. Let the water stay where it flows, not where it goes.

-- Terry Swier is President of the grassroots group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in Mecosta.

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