Four years after discovering their drinking water was tainted with high levels of lead, residents of Flint, Michigan continue to receive bottled water -- and they will keep using that water until all of the city's pipes are replaced.In the meantime, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has approved a new permit for Nestlé Waters North America to increase the amount of water it pumps from the state's groundwater reserves to 400 gallons per minute, up from 250 gallons.
“The scope and detail of the department’s review of the Nestlé permit application represents the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history,” said C. Heidi Grether, director of the state DEQ, in a statement. “We are hopeful that whether residents agree with the Nestlé permitting decision or not, they will acknowledge and respect the work that MDEQ staff did to thoroughly and conscientiously apply the law in reviewing the permit.”
The move was met with fierce opposition -- particularly by residents from Osceola County, which is home to the Nestlé well -- but also by conservationists across the state.
Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said the DEQ decision represented a fundamental failure of the agency to protect Michigan's water.
"Sadly, the DEQ chose to give the green light to a foreign company to continue pumping Michigan water virtually unchecked, hanging a ‘For Sale’ sign on Michigan’s abundant water resources," she said.
Adding insult to injury, Nestlé will only pay $200 per year to maintain the permit.James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, pointed out that Nestlé is one of about 3,000 well owners, withdrawing about 100,000 gallons of water each day. Most are farmers using the water to irrigate their fields, but none pay for the water -- only the permit.
“We’re underfunding our agencies that are designed to protect public health,” he said. “This water quality program is woefully underfunded. This program needs more funding and we think the Legislature needs to address that.”
The people of Flint would likely agree that allowing so much groundwater to be withdrawn at such little cost is an insult to Michigan residents, especially those who can't even use the water in their own homes and schools.
As the Flint Journal reported Monday [March 12], a round of water testing in February by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found 28 water samples in elementary schools that registered above 15 parts per billion of lead, the threshold under the Lead and Copper Rule.