More Water Being Bottled

September 23, 2005
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LANSINGMichigan is helping to quench the thirst of those affected by Hurricane Katrina by increasing diversion of Great Lakes water for bottled water being shipped to Louisiana

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued a directive that allows more water to be taken from aquifers so MecostaCounty's Ice Mountain Spring Water Co., a subsidiary of Nestle Waters of North America Inc., and about 20 other bottling plants may increase their production of bottled water and send it to victims in the Gulf.

Earlier this year, Granholm limited the amount of water that the plants can withdraw and restricted sale of the water to only the Great LakesBasin, made up of Michigan and parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Quebec and Ontario. This latest directive, which may last until Dec. 3, precludes enforcement of those limitations.

Some environmentalists do not have a problem with this.

"I think it is humanitarian and practical," said Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council. "We have something of extraordinary human need and (this) is life saving. She did the right thing."

Suspension of the earlier regulation does not worry her council, which is a coalition of environmental groups, said Pollack.

"Gov. Granholm has a commitment to protecting the Great Lakes," Pollack said. "She can tell the difference between a real emergency need and a real threat to the Great Lakes."

In a May 2005 article in Water and Waste Digest, Kim Jeffery, president of Nestle Waters North America, said bottled water companies use only about 0.06 percent of Michigan's groundwater.

Donna Stine, assistant policy director for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, endorsed allowing extra bottled water, but disagreed with the original restrictions.

"We think the original restrictions didn't make a lot of sense," said Stine. "It's not how water is used but how much is withdrawn that affects the natural resources. And right now you can't take enough water out for bottled water to affect the Great Lakes."

At least two Republican legislators agree.

"I don't think it makes sense to treat bottled water on that basis," said Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee. "We have to look at (the) context of all products. We export latex paint from Michigan and that has a high level of water, as does apple juice and baby food.

"It leads to the question of whether there should be a ban at all."

The main policy should be to preserve groundwater, not limit its use unnecessarily, said Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming.

"It's a mistake to focus on one use," Sikkema said. "The approach has to be to protect the resource."

Other types of operations across Michigan can deplete water supplies, Sikkema added.

"I object to public policy that bottled water is the sole culprit," Sikkema said. "It could be too much agricultural usage."

Sikkema said that it's clear Granholm sees that the issue involves more than a single bottling plant.

"The fact that the governor lifted the restriction says she recognizes that this one aquifer is not draining the resource," Sikkema said.

And Birkholz said, "It's a bigger, broader issue than just bottled water. It should be the goal of every citizen to protect our resources so they will be here forever."

One of the main problems in the Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina is the lack of drinkable water.

Pollack said, "What we are seeing is a contamination of water. It is very expensive to import water and inconvenient, to say the least.

"It brings to mind how precious clean water is and how fragile our own system is. We could be just as incapacitated as those in Louisiana."    

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