Last week, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did the unthinkable; they ruled in favor of Nestle in their controversial bid to double the amount of water they pump for next to nothing and sell back to us. Make no mistake, the amount of water that Nestle will now be taking qualifies as a harmful water withdrawal according to MDEQ’s own flawed water withdrawal assessment tool. For years, Clean Water Action and our members and allies have been fighting against water privatization, and this is a giant step back in that fight as well.
The arguments around this are simple, and a resounding 99% of the comments that MDEQ received on Nestle’s permit application agree: the waters of the Great Lakes are public trust waters. That means they are there for the use and enjoyment of the people of Michigan. Not for the greedy hands of corporate profiteers and their multi-billion dollar foreign companies like Nestle. It is frustrating to see the agency that has been entrusted to protect our most precious resource neglect their duty and become a doormat for private corporations. Frustrating, but not entirely surprising. One of the biggest problems here is the fact that in a rational world, DEQ allowing this would be surprising. Instead, we have a DEQ headed up by someone whose career was in public relations for the oil and gas industry, who made a name for herself spinning news for BP after they destroyed the Gulf of Mexico, and someone who has zero interest in, or understanding of the importance of, protecting 20% of the world’s fresh water.
This is what running a state like a business has wrought. We have a public health crisis in Detroit due to mass water shutoffs of residential customers, a water crisis in Flint, where a whole city still cannot drink the water coming from their taps, 24 communities (and growing) facing PFAS contamination, and even as we begin to address our lead infrastructure problems statewide, our DEQ reminds us all that people can’t drink money, but corporations can and the Nestles of the world are far more important to them than the rest of us.
So what is our next move here? What can people who care about the Great Lakes and care about keeping our water in public control do in response to the greed of Nestle and the indifference of state officials?
Two things: 1. Join the Nestle Boycott. Several organizations are renewing a call to make our voice heard by boycotting Nestle products. They don’t need our money. Don’t buy their water, don’t buy their chocolate, don’t buy DiGiorno Pizzas, Lean Cuisine, or anything else that Nestle makes. Let’s vote with our dollars. 2. VOTE. This November we elect a new Governor, Attorney General, and other state leadership positions. Your vote is your most direct voice in government, so take our voting pledge, volunteer for your local candidates who will champion water issues, and elect a state government that understands that the people who voted for them can’t drink money.