Some Victories, Major Battles to Come

Author: 
Jim C. Chapralis

I thank the EDTU chapter for allowing me to speak at the November meeting on the very critical issue of water extraction by Perrier/Nestle in Michigan and Wisconsin. As I mentioned, a single pump can withdraw more than 700,000 gallons of water in a single day. Imagine what harm it can do in a year’s time! Perrier/Nestle is only interested in spring water . . . the lifeblood of our streams, lakes and wetlands.

The background: Most of us are familiar with Perrier’s attempt to withdraw water from Mecan Springs, Central Wisconsin, as this was well publicized. Wisconsin TUers, and particularly the Central Wisconsin TU chapter joined hands with the Friends of Mecan to fight not only Perrier, but also ex-governor Tommy Thompson and the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). I understand that some of the Illinois TU chapters also contributed. Perrier decided to go to adjoining Adams County and a similar fight took place with similar results. It then opened a huge bottling plant in Mecosta County, Michigan.

At the November meeting, I mentioned that another battleground was soon to pop up at Polar Springs, Langlade County, Wisconsin. It seems that a trout farmer was not doing very well in his business, and allegedly was considering bankruptcy, when all of a sudden he applied and obtained from the DNR a permit for a high-capacity well. Furthermore, he apparently offered $380,000 to purchase a couple of small farms that happen to be ideally located close to highways. He then admitted that he was considering the water bottling business (Polar Ice Water). Where did this money come from? Was some huge company backing him? Many feel that Perrier/Nestle is behind this.

Last November, a group consisting of several Wisconsin chapters of Trout Unlimited, the Menominee Tribe, the Langlade
County Waterways Association, and other individual parties, filed a Petition for Judicial Review, challenging the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approval of a high capacity well permit for Polar Ice Water. The coalition is represented by attorneys from Midwest Environmental Advocates (a nonprofit environmental law center) and Garvey & Stoddard.

The DNR has ignored the impact this well would have on Public Trust resources and failed to provide an environmental assessment of the overall impacts from the proposed project.

If Polar Ice were allowed to remove a substantial amount of ground water, it undoubtedly would damage the health of connecting surface waters, including the Rabe Pond and Creek, the Wolf River, and surrounding wetlands.

“The reduced spring flow from the bottled water operation may harm the cold water trout fishery in Rabe Pond and Creek and the waters to which they are tributary,” said Mitch Bent, a member of the Antigo Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “The DNR has ignored our concerns by denying a hearing on the groundwater pumping. This legal action is now necessary to make sure the DNR does its job and protects our common public trust resources,” he added. The Petition for Judicial Review challenges the DNR’s failure to assess the environmental impacts, the DNR’s approval of a high capacity well without protecting public trust waters, and the DNR’s denial of a hearing on these issues.

“This is a very important case because the DNR has failed to protect the waters of the state in the Wolf River watershed,” said Glenn Stoddard, attorney with the law firm of Garvey & Stoddard, which is representing the coalition. “The DNR has once again caved into the private interests of a water bottler by granting it a permit to exploit spring water resources which are hydrologically connected to important surface waters of the state.”

In my opinion it is even more important than that. It would set a precedent. If Polar Ice can extract water for bottling, why not other water-bottling companies? And if this is allowed in Langlade County, why not elsewhere in Wisconsin? There is a tremendous worldwide water shortage now so multinationals are trying to privatize as much ground water as possible.

This is serious business.

In Mecosta County, Michigan, a citizen’s group won a very important victory in court, when Judge Lawrence Root of 49th Circuit Court in Big Rapids said continued withdrawals of up to 400 gallons per minute will exacerbate existing problems with lower lake levels, sluggish streams and drier wetlands in the area. “I realize this is a dramatic and drastic result,” Root wrote in his 67-page ruling. “I am holding that Nestle's pumping operations . . . stop entirely.”

The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), which brought the suit, was delighted. But it was only a matter
of time. Perrier/Nestle appealed this at a higher court and won a “stay.” This allows Perrier to continue water-bottling operations. Too bad.

With the problems in Wisconsin and Michigan (and those cited above are only the tips of a huge iceberg), I strongly feel that the TU chapters and other environmental groups should help wherever they can. Illinois doesn’t have much trout water,
so most of us fish in Wisconsin and Michigan.

There are more than a few trout streams at stake here. About 20 percent of the world’s freshwater supply is in the Great Lakes Basin. With the huge water shortages in the world today, multinationals are looking everywhere to stake out water claims.

Finally, I was inspired by talks by Doug Conover and Kent Carlson and others, about doing something instead of sitting back and complaining. So I did. I’ve put together a huge segment (“The Water Wars”) in my website. Click on http://www.anglingmatters.com/water_wars.htm This site has already “created” a number of fine, long newspaper articles and lengthy radio shows and future media stories are in the works.