NOTE: A previous version of this story had an incorrect number for the amount of groundwater Ice Mountain is currently pumping from an Osceola County well. This story contains the correct amount.
A township planning commission's permit denial is not stopping a northern Michigan bottled water company's plans to expand and withdraw significantly more groundwater.
Nestle Waters North America officials, in a statement Wednesday, seemed to indicate the company will now consider other options for moving groundwater, after the Osceola Township Planning Commission on Tuesday denied a permit to install a proposed booster station to facilitate movement of the additional groundwater withdrawal the company is requesting.
"The installation of the booster pump was preferable since it has less of an impact than the alternatives of either constructing a second water pipeline or using tanker trucks to transport the additional water," said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resources manager for Nestle's Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water plant in Stanwood in Mecosta County.
When asked for clarification on whether the permit denial means the company will now pursue options such as an additional pipeline or tanker truck shipments, company officials did not respond.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is considering whether to allow Nestle to increase its groundwater withdrawals by 60% — from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute — at White Pine Springs well No. 101 in nearby Osceola County. DEQ officials earlier recommended approval for the additional withdrawal under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.
The request has prompted vehement public opposition, with many particularly outraged that Nestle gets the groundwater for nothing more than a $200 per year DEQ permit.
"That is a the biggest rip-off of a public resource I've ever heard," said Marc Smith, conservation director for the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation in Ann Arbor.
The additional water requested by Nestle is part of a $36-million expansion announced last October for its Ice Mountain bottling operations in Stanwood. The addition of two water-bottling lines is expected to add 20 jobs to the plant, which employs more than 250 people.
DEQ spokeswoman Melody Kindraka confirmed that the state's consideration of the request to withdraw additional groundwater is not affected by the Osceola Township Planning Commission permit denial.
The DEQ requires use of its Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, an interactive, online evaluation of proposed water withdrawals in the state that looks at impacts to fish and stream flows through comparative data and modeling, prior to any proposed large-quantity water withdrawal. When Nestle initially ran its request for additional groundwater through the tool, it was rejected.
But as state regulations allow, the company then requested a site-specific review by DEQ staff. That review, which included looks at the geology in the area and Nestle's own compiled stream-flow information, led the DEQ to determine the increased pumping "is not likely to cause an adverse resource impact," in January, he said, meaning it won't impact populations of fish in the Chippewa Creek watershed, a tributary to the Muskegon River, or decrease stream flows to the point of natural resource impacts.
Smith said National Wildlife Federation supports the use of the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool as a means of using science and important evaluations such as fish impacts to help guide whether to allow water withdrawals. But unanswered questions remain about the Nestle request, he said.
"Nestle has not provided enough information on the cumulative impact to wetlands," he said. "We're asking the DEQ to hold off on any decision unless you have all of the information answered, particularly on the wetlands."
The township planning commission permit denial was "a sign that the community does not want this," Smith said.