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Tribes concerned proposed Nestle water pumping increase would harm environment, violate treaty

Bottles of water
Flickr user Daniel Orth
Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator for CORA, says increased water pumping by Nestle could harm environment in areas where Tribes still have fishing rights, preserved by an 1836 treaty.

Nestle wants to draw more spring water from its well in Osceola County.

As Michigan decides whether to approve Nestle’s request, there's a group with an especially large stake in that decision: Native American tribes who have treaty rights to those waters.

The tribes are represented by the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA).

Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator for CORA, says the tribes signed away large swaths of land so Michigan could become a state. But he says the tribes never signed away hunting and fishing rights on those lands.

Nestle wants to increase pumping at its well near Evart, Michigan from its current rate of 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute.

“At 400 gallons per minute, we believe there will be significant impacts to the headwaters of that watershed, which a watershed of the Muskegon river.”

CORA represents five tribes with treaty rights from an 1836 treaty. Ripley says the treaty covers land as far south on Lake Michigan as the Grand River, and up north through Marquette to Lake Superior, and west to Alpena on Lake Huron.

Ripley says CORA tribes have met with state officials three times since the beginning of 2017. He says he’s satisfied with the access CORA has had to data from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

However, Ripley would like more information from Nestle regarding real-time pumping data from the well in Osceola County. He says the state should get that information from Nestle.

“We’ve relied on the state to be the intermediary there,” Ripley said. “[Nestle] applied to the state of Michigan for a permit. They should be giving the information to the state, and the state would give us the information then. We’re not the ones making the decision, the state is.”

“We’re hoping the state is going to make the right decision so there’s not any impacts to the groundwater, to the wetlands, and the cold water streams of that watershed.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator for CORA, above.

A response from Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resource manager for Nestle Waters North America:

“We respect and recognize the tribes’ sovereign status in Michigan as we do all Native American groups across the country. We recently learned that the tribes had filed comments about our application, but have not seen those comments nor have we received a request from the tribes to discuss their position. We welcome the opportunity to meet with the tribes and listen to their concerns. We take our responsibility as a water steward very seriously. A healthy, sustainable environment is our top priority, one that’s shared by all our 270 employees who live and work in the community. For more than 15 years we have been operating responsibly in Michigan, conducting ongoing, regular monitoring of groundwater, surface water and the local ecosystem to ensure long-term sustainability of our watersheds. We do this at more than 100 sites near the White Pine Springs well and throughout the Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek Watersheds. We use this data to ensure our withdrawal is sustainable and does not impact our neighbors or the environment and that a healthy ecosystem is preserved where we operate.”

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