The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved a plan today by Nestle Waters North America to withdraw 216,000 gallons per day from a site near two trout streams in Osceola County. The DEQ has determined that the plan “will not cause an adverse resource impact” under Michigan’s water laws. In a 15-page document explaining its decision, the DEQ asserts that the withdrawal will not harm fish populations and that it is significantly less than the 691,200 gallon per day maximum amount. The DEQ also explains that they accepted public comment despite not being legally obligated to solicit comments on the proposal, speaking in a generally favorable manner of a comment process that lasted a little more than three weeks and was publicly announced in the Grand Rapids Press on Christmas Eve. In an interesting portion of the document, the DEQ responds to submitted comments and refutes them, specifically rejecting arguments that look at the larger questions about the environmental impact of large-scale water withdrawal and instead focusing on what the DEQ termed “a very narrow administrative decision.”
In a gesture reminding the public of how much it values its input, the DEQ is intending to keep receiving comments until March 15, despite the fact that its decision has already been made. For its part, Nestle has said that it would probably not begin pumping water before late 2007. That gives opponents of the plan time to organize a coordinated and sustained campaign to stop the pumping operation before it begins, although there has been no indication that the infrastructure or energy for a lengthy campaign of direct action and boycotts exists in the area.