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Michigan under fire for letting Nestle bottling plants pump more water

Mich. officials under fire for Nestlé water plan

OSCEOLA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- In a state still embroiled in recent water-usage scandals, Michigan is now under fire for approving a permit to allow Nestle Waters North America Inc. to increase the amount of groundwater it draws from the state for its Ice Mountain brand. There are about 50 water bottling plants located across Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ruled Monday the company's application to increase water output to 400 gallons a minute meets state standards.

Nestle says it wants to nearly double the amount of water it already draws daily from its existing source. 

The plan was approved despite a record number of public comments against it. More than 80,000 people have said they oppose the proposal, while only 75 people said they are in favor of it.

"They really see this as a corporate grab. Nestle, a big corporation, taking this public water -- this public resource, essentially -- and bottling it up, selling it, making money off of it," Lindsey Smith, an investigative reporter for Michigan Radio, told CBSN. "People really see, I mean, that's what the majority of the comments that were posed to fit into that category." 

The city of Flint, Michigan, is still grappling with a yearslong crisis over lead-contaminated water sources. More than a dozen officials have been indicted for their role in the scandal. The city, about 100 miles southeast of Osceola township, reached a settlement last year to repair and replace underground water lines.

Study blames contaminated water in Flint for severe health problems

"There are also concerns about the environment," Smith said. "There are native tribes that have rights to some of this area, this environmentally sensitive area in some places. I think a lot of it, you have to understand the context of Michigan ... Affordability is an issue here."

According to Smith, this is the largest amount of public comments the state has ever received about a single issue. The permit was waiting for approval for nearly two years. 

Officials say in a statement that most of public comments they received expressed opposition to the permit, but the department "thoroughly and conscientiously" applied the law in its review.   

The township originally denied a permit application by Nestle to build a pumping station to get more groundwater. A Mason County judge ruled Nestle could build the station, and the township appealed.