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A small American village resists Nestle and defends its water

Ⓒ AFP – Steven M. Herppich – | David Huff, head of the small community of Osceola Township in the north of the United States, who thwarts Nestle’s ambition to extract more water from local rivers for a derisory amount on January 11, 2018

A small town in the north of the United States stands against the giant Nestlé and wants to thwart its ambition to extract a derisory amount of water from local rivers to market.

Maryann Borden, 73, pulls out a picture board showing the transformation of the Twin Creek River, flowing below her house. “It’s not the same river anymore, it’s narrowed and it’s narrower and shallower, and warmer,” says the former teacher, who has lived in the town since 1953.

The change occurred in the early 2000s when Nestlé began to pump water in the region to sell under the brand Ice Mountain, presented as spring water, so more expensive than purified water.

Located 320 kilometers north of Detroit, Osceola Township is a farming community of about 900 residents who voted Donald Trump. A spiritual retreat center (SpringHill Camp) is the first employer.

This town does not want to allow the Swiss giant to build a pumping station, a major link in its plan to pump 400 gallons (1,500 liters) of water per minute, against 250 (950 liters) currently.

In January, he appealed a judge’s decision on the grounds that the Nestlé project was going to affect the aquifer.

– $ 200 –

“When you look at the ducts, which give indications of historical water levels, there is no need to be a geologist or a hydrologist to see that they are much lower than there are two years or five years ago, which is obviously a concern for many people in the village, “says Tim Ladd, the village manager.

Ⓒ AFP – Steven M. Herppich – | Osceola Township, a town in the north of the United States, does not want Nestlé to build a pumping station, an important link in its plan to pump 400 gallons (1,500 liters) of water per minute, compared with 250 (950 liters) today.

“There are dams on these rivers and these dams can affect the flow,” says Arlene Anderson-Vincent, resource manager at Nestle Waters North America. The pumping station will have “a very very low impact on the environment,” she says.

Data from scientists paid by Nestlé show that there is no impact on the environment but there is no independent study.

The anger of Osceola Township is largely fueled by the feeling of being exploited. Nestle only pays $ 200 a year to the State of Michigan to pump a little over 130 million gallons of water (nearly 500 million liters).

Many US states allow companies to use as much water as they want for a minimum fee provided they pump it themselves and build the necessary infrastructure. They can also “rent” municipal wells, as do Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which produce Dasani waters for the first and Aquafina for the second.

“Nestlé has the reputation of going to poor rural communities, shining in economic benefits that never materialize and pumping as much water as possible until the streams dry up and then ‘go,’ casts Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.

Nestle claims to contribute $ 18 million a year in revenue to the state of Michigan, including $ 2.4 million in taxes in 2016. Of the 280 full-time employees at its Mecosta County plant, about 40 minutes away by car About fifty come from the county where Osceola Township is located.

– ‘Fear’ –

Nestlé wants to take advantage of the explosion of the US water market, whose wholesale sales – $ 16.42 billion – exceeded for the first time in 2016 those sodas (12.46 billion), after Beverage Marketing.

The waters sold in the United States (Poland Spring, Pure Life, Ice Mountain …) generated 55.3% ($ 4.69 billion) of the group’s total water sales in 2016.

In Evart, a municipality adjacent to Osceola Township, where the annual average income is $ 20,000 a year (just above the poverty line for a family of three) Zackary Szakacs praises Nestlé, which has been renting since 2007 two municipal wells.

“They help keep water prices low for our poor residents,” said the retired police officer, who became the municipality’s manager.

After discovering perchlorate, a pollutant, in city wells in 2015, Nestle offered to clean them, he says.

Still, in an area where households are struggling to pay their water bills and the scandal of lead-contaminated water in Flint have left their mark, Nestlé’s ambitions are worrying.

“I’m afraid my children and future grandchildren will not have access to clean water,” says Wendy Nystrom, 53.

A study published a year ago by researcher Elizabeth Mack of the University of Michigan estimates that the number of Americans unable to pay their water bill could triple to 36% in the next five years.

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