Where Nestlé Guzzles Water, Michigan Neighbors Take Exception

“Having anybody take away some of the very best water that should be going into the creeks and the Muskegon River and eventually Lake Michigan, that’s a big deal,” said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, who lives 25 miles from Evart. “That Nestlé does it for free? That’s just crazy.”

Actually, it is standard; landowners and commercial businesses have long had rights in much of the United States to use as much water as they want free if they drill and pump it themselves. Even customers on municipal water systems technically pay not for the water they use but for infrastructure and energy to deliver it.

Still, in a state where access to clean, affordable water, most notably in Flint and Detroit, has dominated the news, it offends many that a foreign company can profit from bottling so much for so little. Even in this deeply conservative corner of rural America, fear of environmental despoliation and a sense of being exploited is propelling many to denounce Nestlé’s demand for more.

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Maryann Borden near her home in Evart, Mich. “I can’t understand how they can take so much,” she said of Nestlé’s water pumping. “How does it recover from that massive removal?”

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Gary Howe for The New York Times

Other major industries use far more water for the same $200 permit fee — Pfizer, for instance, used 6.9 billion gallons in 2015 for its medicine factory near Kalamazoo, according to state data — but most of that water is returned to the same watershed after use, Nestlé critics note.

The scale of Nestlé’s operation in this sparsely populated region about 180 miles northwest of Detroit is immense. The company packages an average of 4.8 million bottles of water a day — more than 3,000 a minute — with all lines…

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