CADILLAC — Just go home.
That's the message from Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, to Nestle Waters North America.
Nestle said this summer that the company was thinking about getting out of the regional bottled water business.
Ice Mountain, the Nestle brand bottled in Stanwood and withdrawn from wells near Evart, is one of the brands.
The time is ripe, according to Case, for action.
"This is a good opportunity, when they are trying to negotiate sales to these places, to tell them to just return the permits. Return whatever they think they own back to public entities," Case told the Cadillac News. "It's a good time for them to just go home. That's all we want. Just go home. Leave the water where it is."
This week MCWC and other organizations announced the launch of the global "Nestle Troubled Waters" campaign. The campaign includes sending a letter to Nestle, government leaders and other businesses in the water bottling industry.
The letter urges Nestle "to divest these assets prior to any sale of your bulk bottled water brands."
The assets named in the letter include the White Pine Springs complex near Evart; the Arrowhead complex in the San Bernardino National Forest, California and the Ruby Mountain Springs complex in Chaffee County, Colorado, both Arrowhead brand endeavors; the Ginnie Springs complex near High Springs Florida, the Zephyrhills brand; and the Aberfoyle complex of Nestle Waters Canada in Wellington County, Ontario, for the Pure Life brand.
The Story of Stuff Project, based out of Berkeley, California, has contributed funds over the years to citizens' groups that oppose Nestle's efforts in their communities.
"Leave these five particularly controversial water sources (and) put them back into the public trust," prior to any sale, urged Michael O'Heaney, executive director of The Story of Stuff Project. He went on to say, "If they're going to exit this business, and if they're serious about the commitments that they've made around sustainability, what better thing could they do ... than to give these waters back to the communities that have sustained their business for as long as they have?"
Nestle defends the company's record of community involvement and service.
"Nestle Waters North America is proud to be part of the communities in which we operate, including in Mecosta and Osceola Counties in Michigan. We have a long history of supporting communities such as Evart as an employer, a contributor to local organizations and by maintaining open and transparent communications," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement to the Cadillac News. "Our shared commitment to the sustainability of water resources is grounded in science and guides our everyday decisions and actions."
Several organizations and some individuals co-signed the letter. They include The Story of Stuff Project; Corporate Accountability International; SumOfUs; Food and Water Watch; Campax; Wellington Water Watchers, Ontario; Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County LLC, Colorado; Our Santa Fe River, Florida; Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation; and FLOW (For the Love of Water), Michigan.
SumOfUs may be familiar to local residents. The global corporate accountability organization fundraised and donated approximately $50,000 to Osceola Township, which fought and won a zoning battle with Nestlé over a booster station.
That the Osceola Township lawsuit needed defending at all strikes Angus Wong, campaign manager for SumOfUs, as unjust, especially considering the ongoing water crises in Detroit and Flint, less than 200 miles away.
"Nestle is taking water left, right and center and profiting off it—and suing the local communities," Wong said.
SumOfUs has also contributed $20,000 in the still-ongoing legal battle over the water withdrawal permit near Evart.
Nestle and MCWC have been at odds for years over the company's extraction and bottling of water in and near Evart.
In 2018, Michigan's environmental agency issued a permit for Nestle to increase the water withdrawn from the White Pine Springs well near Evart; MCWC has been fighting that decision ever since. The parties are now awaiting a decision from Liesl Clark, Director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). Clark is an appointee of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and as such, was not in charge of the agency when the permit was initially granted.
FLOW, a northern Michigan-based organization aimed at protecting the Great Lakes, also signed the letter.
FLOW said that their focus remains on the contested case that is still in the hands of EGLE.
"But we do take a strong position on the privatization of water anywhere in the country," said Jim Olson, FLOW's founder and president.
"As we enter into the 21st century, there's a huge demand for water," Olson said. If water is privatized for sale, it's a slippery slope leading to people losing control of their right to use water, he added.