Sucked Dry Michigan's groundwater perils

by John Rymal, March 3, 2017

"Michigan is about to sell 100M gallons of groundwater to Nestlé for $200"

The above quote has spread across the internet like E.coli at Metro Beach. It certainly has its intended effect: causing alarm. The sad truth is that this is just business as usual, and doesn’t do justice to the real problem.

According to Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press, the plan is to increase pumping in a well in Evart, Michigan, by 167%. The change will equate to 100M gallons a year, conservatively, from a single well. This change would reverse an agreement that Nestle had with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation from 2009, when they sued Nestle over pumping that massive amount of water. Their defense for the increase in water pumping is that it will create 20 new jobs.

Michigan has few laws governing the use of groundwater, according to David Lusch of the Michigan State University Institute of Water Research. Basically, if you own the land you can take the water underneath it, as long as you are not perceptibly changing nearby surface water levels. This can be difficult to monitor given seasonal changes, and subtle effects to surface water that can be difficult to measure.

The placement of the well is also a massive concern. Michigan’s trout species require clean, cold water streams that are only provided from strong sources of groundwater. These places that have groundwater are also targeted by water companies as prime spots for wells. Evart, for instance, sits along the Muskegon river, one of the best trout habitats in the state. A large-volume well in the area has the potential to affect both the river and its many tributary streams.

Jeff Alexander of Bridge Magazine said that since water regulations in Michigan changed in 2008, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality allowed 1,789 new wells to be drilled, each capable of pumping over 100,000 gallons a day. In the same time span, they’ve only denied permission for 12.

All this comes at a time when Flint residents still don’t have acceptable drinking water, our public beaches are shut down every summer due to contamination, and we attempt to reintroduce fish species that were wiped out from water misuse at the turn of the last century. It’s not an easy problem to solve, law makers must balance the needs of local businesses and farmers that require large amounts of groundwater while trying to regulate businesses taking far more than their fair share. Charging these massive corporations to get Michigan water seems like an obvious choice, but even that creates problems. Once you’ve turned Michigan’s water into a revenue stream, you’ve created a reason for less than scrupulous municipal leaders to create incentives that will bring even more water companies into their areas.

Currently, the proposition for the pumping increase is still under review, only time will tell if it passes. In the meantime, Michigan has thousands of other wells pumping at over 100,000 gallons a day. 100 million gallons, though significant, is really just a drop in the bucket.


Methany, Keith. Egan, Paul. Nestlé bottled-water company seeks to take more Michigan water. Detroit Free Press. November 20, 2016. Accessed March 3, 2017

Alexander, Jeff. There's water everywhere in Michigan - but for many it's not enough, or suitable. Bridge Magazine. October 22, 2013. index.ssf/2013/10/water_water_everywhere_in_mich.html Accessed March 3, 2017

Lusch, David. An Overview of Existing Water Law in Michigan Related to Irrigation Water Use and Riparian Consideration.Institute of Water Research Michigan State University. February, 2011. lyndon/Michigan_Water_Law.pdf Accessed on March 3, 2017

Beach At Lake St. Clair Metropark Closed Due To E. Coli Issues. CBS 62. July 7, 2016. Accessed March 3, 2016


John Rymal

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