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Michigan conservationists say Nestlé's pumping of well water unsustainable

Michigan residents oppose Nestlé's rural well
Michigan residents oppose Nestlé pumping water from rural well 03:59

Conservationists are trying to stop Nestlé from pumping more water from a well in rural Michigan. Nestlé got a permit last month to increase production from the well in Evart, Michigan. The company says it is environmentally sustainable. But residents claim pumping more water will further damage the area's resources.

Nestlé Waters' brands, including Poland Spring, Ice Mountain and Arrowhead, brought in $4.5 billion in sales last year.

At a Nestlé plant in Standwood, in northwest Michigan, spits out water at a dizzying pace. Bottles are quickly filled, labeled, and packed.

Water is bottled and packed at a Nestlé plant in Michigan. CBS News

Factory manager Dave Sommer explained that last year Nestlé invested $37 million in a project that expanded their plant by 80,000 square feet.

In addition, Nestlé is planning to pump more water from a rural well, but the quiet here belies the controversy.

"You can live without oil, you can live without gold, but you can't live without water," said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. In January, the group sent a letter to state regulators, blaming Nestlé for "significant loss of surface waters" and "aquatic life" in two creeks near the well."

"The levels are down," Case said. "It's almost impossible to find trout in what used to be two cold-water trout streams," Case told CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz.

Conservationists say the pumping of water from a local well by Nestlé Waters has adversely affected water levels and aquatic life. CBS News

John McLane, who is also with the group, said, "I had water rationing in Vietnam. I don't like being without water."

In 2016, Nestlé applied for a permit to pump an additional 150 gallons per minute at White Pine Springs. The state received more than 80,000 comments from citizens about the plan; only 57 supported it.

Nestlé's request failed the state's initial environmental impact test, but after a lengthy review, it received approval last month.

Arlene Anderson-Vincent, a natural resource manager at Nestlé, said, "What we see is a very, very stable water level over a 17-year period of reference."

Which means? "That this is sustainable and we're not negatively impacting the environment."

Nestlé contractors demonstrated to Diaz how they monitor water levels.

Water levels at a Michigan well are measured by Nestlé contractors. CBS News

But Case told her, "They think their little dipstick and their little monitors somehow tell a story; they don't."

"So, do you think they're lying?" asked Diaz

"Nestlé is a corporation with a PR plan. They have their story, we have ours."

When asked why Nestlé believes increasing the amount of water pumped would not adversely effect the environment, Anderson-Vincent replied, "Nestlé Waters employs a group of natural resource managers as myself. Our job is to ensure that the withdrawal is sustainable."

Anderson-Vincent showed Diaz where the groundwater in question emerges into springs.

Diaz asked, "Do you have a sense of what level would be unsustainable? Is it 1,000 gallons a minute?"

"Um, I don't," she replied. "We've looked at 500, 600, 700 gallons a minute, and really felt 400 gallons was extremely protective of the ecosystem here. … It's a conservative number."

"People are so angry," said State Senator Rebekah Warren. "It feels like a company's profits are being put ahead of the needs of the citizens of Michigan, and a resource that, if you grew up in this area, people love our great lakes."

Nestlé Waters says they've invested about $270 million in Michigan, creating 765 jobs and generating more than $160 million in economic activity.

When asked if she feels the backlash is unfair, Anderson-Vincent replied, "People are very passionate about water, and so are we. We respect that passion."

Case, meanwhile, said, "Nestlé does not own this water. This water belongs to the people and the ecosystem."

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