Welcome to the GET WET! Blog

This is the post excerpt.

All are invited to participate!

Welcome to the blog that is going to keep you informed about water issues!  Political, social, economic, human health, land use… you name it!  It has been my personal goal to educate the public to the need to understand that our water health is dependent on our actions and inaction.

Your community CAN protect your water! Logo Jpeg

Exploring real world environmental concerns must also include social, economic, political, human health, and natural resource implications. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of complicated environmental matters that do not stop at man-made state lines, or international lines of delineation. Water, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), waste, industrial farming, disaster relief, air quality, carbon sequestration, energy production, and fishing industries, to name a few, all encompass multiple disciplines in both its onset and its potential solutions. Educating the public to environmental sciences as a single discipline, taught from a text, within a classroom, whose antithesis is business, does not convey the entire picture.

The GET WET! Project addresses residential water needs by collaborating with local universities, government representatives, businesses, conservation commissions, ENGOs, parents, and community volunteers to assure all interested parties are heard. Focusing on local environmental issues through school-centered, community-based curriculum increases participation and opens a dialogue regarding local resources, jobs, human health, politics, and economics. Allowing the community to decide which of the concerns they feel deserves the most attention provides an autonomy that may be more palatable.


June 9, 2017    Published in General



Students from eight classrooms in six schools across the Ossipee Watershed participated in Ground Water Education through Water Evaluation and Testing (known by its acronym GET WET), facilitated by Green Mountain Conservation Group’s  Education Coordinator, Dr. Karen Deighan.

Sandwich Central School, Freedom Elementary School, Cornerstone Christian Academy, Ossipee Central School, K.A. Brett School and Molly Ockett Middle School all took part in this hands-on science based program that teaches local youth about groundwater and stratified drift aquifers.

GET WET provides students an opportunity to use the science they are learning in the classroom and apply it to their lives by testing their own well water.

Dr. Theresa Thornton founded GET WET specifically for rural areas that depend largely on private wells for drinking water. Students in the Ossipee Watershed learned how to collect samples of their well water following a protocol and then bringing it into the classroom to test their water for six parameters: pH, iron, conductivity, hardness, chloride and nitrates.

The program also helps students learn how to create a long-term database of groundwater quality data. When the testing was complete, students analyzed their data and found the latitude and longitude coordinates of their wells using Google Earth which allowed them to see their collective results in the form of graphs and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps.

Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, Green Mountain Conservation Group staff and volunteers, including Noreen Downs and Maud Anderson helped guide students through these scientific procedures.

To learn more about GET WET or any of Green Mountain Conservation Group’s other educational programs, contact Karen Deighan at Green Mountain Conservation Group at 539-1859 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”>education@gmcg.org. GET WET is partially funded through the Quimby Foundation and NHDES, Local Source Water Protection Grant funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.


Read more at the Conway Daily Sun:  http://www.conwaydailysun.com/community/6071-general/131711-ground-water-education-and-testing-program-reaches-over-150-students

Trump administration to propose repealing rule giving EPA broad authority over water pollution

Tidal saltmarsh in coastal Washington.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)


President Trump’s administration will revoke a rule that gives the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority over regulating the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Tuesday.

Testifying before Congress, Pruitt — who earlier said he would recuse himself from working on active litigation related to the rule — said that the agency would “provide clarity” by “withdrawing” the rule and reverting standards to those adopted in 2008.

Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, had sued EPA over the regulation, saying it “usurps” state authority, “unlawfully broadens” the definition of waters of the United States and imposes “numerous and costly obligations” on landowners.

A withdrawal was expected, based on the executive order Trump signed in February targeting the rule. But this is the first clear signal of how the EPA will act on the president’s order.

The current rule, known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), unambiguously gives EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers authority that many think the agencies already possessed under the Clean Water Act. The 1972 law gave the agencies control over navigable rivers and interstate waterways, but a series of court rulings left the extent of that power ambiguous. The Obama administration sought to end a decade of confusion by finalizing the WOTUS rule, which took effect in August 2015, triggering protests from a variety of real estate development, agricultural and industrial interests.

The existing regulation covers wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters, as well as streams serving as tributaries to navigable waters. The rule says that wetlands and tributaries must be “relatively permanent,” a phrase used in previous court opinions, which means they can be intermittent. Defining it this way extends federal jurisdiction to 60 percent of the water bodies in the United States.

Trump signed an executive order in late February calling on EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to revisit the regulation, a move he described as “paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The executive order instructed the agencies to change the interpretation of a 2006 Supreme Court decision on what falls under the federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. In the Rapanos v. United States decision, the court split three ways. Its four most conservative justices at the time offered a very constrained view that only “navigable waters” met this test. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who refused to join either the conservatives or the liberals, said in a concurring opinion that the government could intervene when there was a “significant nexus” between large water bodies and smaller, as well as intermittent, ones.

Trump’s executive order said that federal officials should rely on the dissenting opinion of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued the law should only apply to “navigable waters.” No court has ever ruled that this test is the single decisive threshold for triggering Clean Water Act protections.

“This proposal strikes directly at public health,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for 1 in every 3 Americans.” She called it a “reckless attack on our waters and health.”

Pruitt told senators in testimony Tuesday that the Obama-era rule “created a situation where farmers and ranchers, landowners across the country did not know whether their stream or dry creek bed, in some instances, was actually subject … to EPA jurisdiction and EPA authority.” He said that “they were facing fines that were substantial as they engaged in earth work to build subdivisions — I mean, it was something that created a substantial amount of uncertainty and confusion.”

But Suh said that the repeal of WOTUS “would make it easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution downstream.”

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that “from vernal pools in California to prairie pothole ponds in the Midwest, small wetlands provide essential habitat to hundreds of endangered species, birds and migrating wildlife.”

Foes of the WOTUS rule hailed the administration’s plans to revoke it.

“The West has finally won in the battle over the Obama administration’s WOTUS rule,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.). “This regulation would have been a disaster for rural communities in the West and across the country, giving Washington near-total control over water resources.”

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association chief executive Jim Matheson said that as written, the rule “would have increased costs and impaired the ability of co-ops to build and maintain power lines.” He urged EPA and the Army Corps to propose “a new common-sense rule.”

The administration’s push to revoke the rule has sparked nearly 500,000 public comments, many of which urge the federal government to preserve the existing regulation.

After taking comment on repealing the rule and reaching a final decision, EPA will have to craft its own proposed rule for defining which waters deserve federal protection under the 1972 law. That new regulation, which will be subject to public comment, will very likely be challenged in federal court by environmental and outdoors groups.

Jo Ellen Darcy, who co-authored the Obama-era rule as assistant secretary of the Army for civil works and now sits on the board of the advocacy group American Rivers, questioned why the new administration would revisit a regulation that received more than 1 million comments and drew on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies.

“By tossing out years of scientific study and public input, Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are muddying the very waters the Clean Water Rule sought to clarify,” Darcy said.

Brady Dennis contributed to this report.

FOR FULL STORY: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/06/27/trump-administration-to-propose-repealing-rule-giving-epa-broad-authority-over-water-pollution/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_epawater-9pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.3b55204d2b8f

Slashed Funds to Help Rural America Keep Farm Pollution Out of Drinking Water

(202) 667-6982
FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017

WASHINGTON – Rural Americans were key to President Trump’s election, but the president’s proposed budget would reward their support by allowing more animal waste, toxic pesticides and fertilizer pollution in their drinking water, said EWG.

“President Trump has put a dirty-water bullseye on the backs of the very same voters who swept him into office,” said Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at EWG. “If the president’s plan to cut programs that protect clean drinking water in farm country becomes law, his most ardent supporters will see even more manure, pesticides and nitrates fouling their drinking water sources than they do now.”

Recent image from a Nebraska rest stop.

Trump’s budget proposal seeks to eliminate or slash federal funding for a number of vital programs that help states and rural communities deal with water pollution, much of which comes from polluted runoff from corn and soybean fields and factory farms.

One water protection program targeted for elimination is the Environmental Protection Agency’s 319 grant program for nonpoint source pollution.  Trump is calling for zeroing out its budget of $164 million. Under the program, rural communities “receive grant money to support a wide variety of activities” to help mitigate water pollution, including from agriculture and forestry operations.

EPA estimates that its nonpoint source pollution program has “partially or fully restored 674 water bodies” in the U.S. Success stories of this initiative abound for virtually every state in the country, including Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Michigan.

In Iowa alone, there are 124 nonpoint source pollution projects that are either ongoing or completed. Exposure to nitrates in drinking water has been linked to higher rates of thyroid, bladder and ovarian cancer, and can lead to so-called blue baby syndrome, which can be fatal to infants under 6 months old.

Nestle doesn’t believe water is a human right. Now they’re taking it.

EVART, Mich. — The creek behind Maryann Borden’s house was once “a lovely little stream that just babbled along and never changed for decades,” she says. Now it is perhaps 12 feet across — half what it was, she reckons — with grassy islands impeding what used to be an uninterrupted flow.

“What happened?” Ms. Borden asked. “Nestlé happened. That’s what I think.” A lot of her neighbors think so, too.

Nestlé can pump more than 130 million gallons of water a year from a well near this northwestern Michigan town to bottle and sell. It’s a big business: Last year, for the first time, bottled water outsold carbonated soft drinks in the United States.

And now Nestlé wants more. It has applied to increase its pumping allowance at the well by 60 percent. The application, which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is expected to rule on within months, has catalyzed opposition in part because of what Nestlé pays for most of the water it bottles: nothing. That is, it pays only a $200 annual permit fee to pump from wells it owns (like this one) or leases.

Continue reading the main story

“Having anybody take away some of the very best water that should be going into the creeks and the Muskegon River and eventually Lake Michigan, that’s a big deal,” said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, who lives 25 miles from Evart. “That Nestlé does it for free? That’s just crazy.”

Actually, it is standard; landowners and commercial businesses have long had rights in much of the United States to use as much water as they want free if they drill and pump it themselves. Even customers on municipal water systems technically pay not for the water they use but for infrastructure and energy to deliver it.

Still, in a state where access to clean, affordable water, most notably in Flint and Detroit, has dominated the news, it offends many that a foreign company can profit from bottling so much for so little. Even in this deeply conservative corner of rural America, fear of environmental despoliation and a sense of being exploited is propelling many to denounce Nestlé’s demand for more.


Maryann Borden near her home in Evart, Mich. “I can’t understand how they can take so much,” she said of Nestlé’s water pumping. “How does it recover from that massive removal?” CreditGary Howe for The New York Times

Other major industries use far more water for the same $200 permit fee — Pfizer, for instance, used 6.9 billion gallons in 2015 for its medicine factory near Kalamazoo, according to state data — but most of that water is returned to the same watershed after use, Nestlé critics note.

The scale of Nestlé’s operation in this sparsely populated region about 180 miles northwest of Detroit is immense. The company packages an average of 4.8 million bottles of water a day — more than 3,000 a minute — with all lines running at a plant about 40 miles south of Evart, said David Sommer, the factory manager.

That plant draws water from nine wells, including two owned by the City of Evart for which it pays the local municipal water rate of $3.50 per thousand gallons. Two are on the factory site and the other five are scattered around two rural counties, including the White Pines well near Evart that is the subject of the increase request.

All that pumping produces the spring water Ice Mountain label sold across the Upper Midwest and the filtered water line Pure Life, a national line. Spring water, defined as coming from sources that flow naturally at the land’s surface, sells for more because it is perceived to be more authentic and healthier, Nestlé officials say.

“Spring water is a very different thing, a precious source,” said Nelson Switzer, chief sustainability officer for Nestlé Waters North America. “We bring that to the people, that convenience, that ability to reseal, to take it with them, to have it when they need it. That’s a very unique idea, a distinction.”

To win over the state environmental agency, Nestlé must convince officials that it is a good steward of the environment. Arlene Anderson-Vincent, Nestlé’s natural resources manager for Michigan, insisted, “We never take out more than nature’s bringing back in.”

Evart’s city manager, Zackary Szakacs, supports Nestlé, asserting that the company’s purchase of water from city-owned wells keeps costs low for the 2,000 residents of a community with a $19,000 median income. The company also pays for an environmental protection fund, new public recreational facilities and, more recently, for scientists and expertise to purify a city well Nestlé found to be tainted by perchlorate, a thyroid toxin.

“There’s so much water in Osceola County, it’s unbelievable,” said Mr. Szakacs, who says he has not observed changes in the waterways. “We’re so fortunate. We have a partnership with Nestlé Ice Mountain. It’s a good partnership. We’re just trying to survive so the town will live another 100 years.”


Ms. Borden says the stream that has long babbled along her property is about half the size it used to be, and she suspects Nestlé’s insatiable thirst is to blame. CreditGary Howe for The New York Times

Opposition is strong, though. In April, the zoning board in Osceola Township, the unincorporated area outside Evart where the White Pines well sits, voted 5 to 0 to reject Nestlé’s application to build a $500,000 facility that would increase its current ability to pump if the state allows it.

Nestlé is appealing that ruling, saying the booster station is the most efficient way to move the increased water. If the company is unable to build the station, it may widen an existing pipeline or truck the water to the factory, Ms. Anderson-Vincent said.

There is no conclusive scientific data that Nestlé has depleted or altered the ecosystem. Even local hydrologists troubled by Nestlé’s operations acknowledge that the accusations of damage are supported largely by anecdotal observations like those of Ms. Borden or of anglers who say the creek’s stock of trout has diminished.

“We’ve heard their arguments, but we haven’t seen any of their science,” Mr. Switzer said. “Believe me, over and over we’ve asked, invited them to come in and talk with us. Let’s not forget we have 17 years of data, rigorous science with over 100 monitoring points that demonstrate rigorously that what we are doing does not have a significant impact.”

Local opponents say those assertions are misleading. Mr. Ostahowski said he and other environmentalists had never been offered a chance to review Nestlé’s raw data. They note that Nestlé’s request initially failed when it was run through the state’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, a formula aimed at determining whether pumping will harm the ecosystem.

Nestlé persuaded officials to look at the data differently, arguing that the tool was too conservative, and in the second rendering the state found that the increased pumping would not harm the local environment.

Melody Kindraka, a spokeswoman for the state environmental agency, said the department “is still in the process of reviewing and verifying all the information we have received.” No timeline was given for its decision.

In these parts, though, longtime residents like Ms. Borden say common sense might be a better guide than science.

“The math doesn’t add up,” she said, staring at the creek she has lived beside since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. “I can’t understand how they can take so much. How does it recover from that massive removal? It’s millions of gallons. It doesn’t go back into our aquifer, because they’re putting it in a bottle and shipping it somewhere else.”

Correction: May 24, 2017
An earlier version of this article misidentified the entity for which Nelson Switzer is chief sustainability officer. It is Nestlé Waters North America, not Nestlé USA.

Human Feces or Fertilizer? The TEST!

Hidden Oaks Middle School in Stuart Florida is a school who has residents that live along the St. Lucie River.  Some research states that algae from Lake Okeechobee dumps are causing problems in the lagoon and some are stating that septic system failures in the watershed are creating a food source for the algae creating a toxic megabloom.

Students from Oxbridge Academy’s (https://www.oapb.org/) Field Research Class and Quantitative and Qualitative Research class are working with middle school students from hidden Oaks Middle to help them test their private well waters for nitrates.  Additional samples are taken to the BioTools Laboratory in the Jupiter area to test for sucralose, a marker for human feces. Students will be able to learn about water quality issues in their area, if their waters are compromised, and ways they might be able to protect their source waters.  AnOxbridge student will be mapping the fate and transport of the quantified sucralose levels in a GIS program and presenting his results at the AWRA Conference in Oregon November 2017.

FPL Wins Battle to Store Radioactive Waste Under Miami’s Drinking Water Aquifer

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 9.07.36 PMFull video: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/fpl-wins-battle-to-store-radioactive-waste-under-miamis-drinking-water-aquifer-9059210

by Jerry Iannelli

South Florida sits atop two gigantic underground stores of water: the Biscayne and Floridan Aquifers. Miamians get most of their drinking water from the upper Biscayne Aquifer, while the government has used the lower portion of the Floridian to dump waste and untreated sewage — despite the fact that multiple studies have warned that waste could one day seep into the drinking water.

So environmentalists are concerned that Florida Power & Light now wants to dump full-on radioactive waste into the that lower water table, called the Boulder Zone. A small group of activists called Citizens Allied for Safe Energy (CASE) tried to stop FPL’s plan, but their legal petition was shot down this past Friday.

According to NRC documents, CASE’s petition was dismissed for being filed “inexcusably late” in FPL’s application process.

“This was thrown out on procedural grounds,” says CASE’s president, Barry J. White. “The science is still there.”

CASE had filed a petition with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but the NRC on Friday threw out CASE’s complaint, saying the environmental group had filed too late in FPL’s approval process.

The fight stems from the energy company’s plan to build two nuclear reactors at the controversial Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station south of Miami by roughly 2030. The towers might not be operational for a decade or two, but that doesn’t mean the public should stop paying attention to them. FPL is submitting numerous proposals about the project to the government.

As part of that package, FPL told the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it plans to store contaminated water used to clean the reactors, as well as radioactive waste (“radwaste”) in the Boulder Zone. In October, the NRC issued a report, stating FPL’s plan would pose “no environmental impacts” to the South Florida environment.

“Everything will be put into a supposedly ‘hermetically sealed’ Boulder Zone,” White told New Times in December. “But anybody who lives in South Florida knows nothing below us is hermetically sealed.” Environmentalists say the plan could leak carcinogens such as cesium, strontium 90, and tritium right into the drinking-water aquifers.

An FPL spokesperson Friday provided the following statement to New Times:

After an exhaustive and comprehensive review of the proposed Turkey Point Units 6 & 7 project, including the plans to safely use reclaimed water for cooling, the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff concluded ‘…there are no environmental impacts to preclude issuing Combined Licenses to build and operate two reactors next to the existing Turkey Point nuclear power plant.”

But CASE’s November complaint cited both government data and FPL’s own engineers, who admitted in separate hearings that waste could leak upward from the Boulder Zone into the Biscayne Aquifer.

For one, the United States Ground Water Atlas, a government document, warns the Boulder Zone “is thought to be connected to the Atlantic Ocean, possibly about 25 miles east of Miami, where the sea floor is almost 2,800 feet deep along the Straits of Florida.” CASE’s petition says the NRC failed to address this issue.

Likewise, “an upward hydraulic gradient from the Floridan [Aquifer] to the Biscayne [Aquifer],” an FPL engineer testified in January 2016. “The Floridan is under pressure. Therefore, you have flow from the Floridan into the Biscayne and not vice versa.”

Since filing that complaint, CASE also uncovered yet another government study, which confirms the Boulder Zone can leak into “underground sources of drinking water” in South Florida.

The 2015 study, from the United States Geological Survey, says that numerous tectonic faults and other fissures exist under Biscayne Bay and the “Miami Terrace,” the seafloor immediately east of the Miami shoreline.

The report states flatly:

Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey of seismic-reflection profiles acquired in onshore canals and offshore in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic continental shelf have indicated the presence of tectonic faults (one strike-slip fault and multiple reverse faults) and karst collapse structures, and these studies substantiate the utility of this approach for locating feasible vertical-fluid flow pathways. The strike-slip fault and karst collapse structures span confining units of the Floridan aquifer system and could provide high permeability passageways for groundwater movement. If present at or near wastewater injection utilities, these features represent a plausible physical system for the upward migration of effluent injected into the Boulder Zone to overlying U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated underground sources of drinking water in the upper part of the Floridan aquifer system.

“The evidence is so strong that it’s doubtful the zone is ‘hermetically sealed,'” White says.

FPL contends that any radioactive-waste discharges will be carefully monitored to ensure they won’t leak. But the company’s credibility with the public is not in good shape. Early last year, Miami-Dade County officials said cooling canals from Turkey Point were already leaking waste into Biscayne Bay — the ordeal, and FPL’s alleged refusal to take proper responsibility for the damage, led to a lawsuit.

Now, White says, he and CASE plan to lobby state lawmakers to try to outlaw injections into the Boulder Zone through state law. To put things mildly, CASE is fighting an uphill battle: FPL is one of the largest campaign donors in Florida politics.

Here is the NRC’s full rejection letter:  http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/fpl-wins-battle-to-store-radioactive-waste-under-miamis-drinking-water-aquifer-9059210





Businesses using trillions of gallons of Michigan ground water

, Detroit Free PressPublished 11:15 p.m. ET April 22, 2017 | Updated 8:11 a.m. ET April 23, 2017

Michigan utilities, industries and farmers use trillions of gallons of ground and surface water per year, essentially for free

While Swiss-based food giant Nestlé’s northern Michigan bottled water operations have raised public ire with its request to greatly expand the amount of groundwater it pumps, it’s far from alone in using Michigan waters to make its profits flow.

Utilities, industries and farmers use trillions of gallons of Michigan ground and surface water each year, essentially for free, a Free Press review of data from the state Department of Environmental Quality shows.

The state’s largest groundwater extractor — by far — is Pfizer’s pharmaceutical manufacturing operation near Kalamazoo, at more than 6.9 billion gallons in 2015, according to DEQ data. That annual groundwater withdrawal exceeds the total water volume of Orchard Lake in Oakland County, or Wayne County’s Belleville Lake.

Nestlé Waters North America and its Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Mecosta County ranks 23rd for its volume of state groundwater extracted each year, behind cement and mineral plants, paper companies, utilities, the Post Foods cereal company near Battle Creek, and others.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s use of 214.24 billion gallons of surface water per year places it behind the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Berrien County; DTE Energy’s Monroe and St. Clair power plants, and Consumers Energy’s plants in Ottawa and Bay counties.

That industries, utilities and farms use water at virtually no charge is not unique to Michigan, but part of long-standing U.S. water policy. Those who have access to a water supply — even large, for-profit corporations — are generally free to use it, so long as their use poses no harm to neighbors or the environment. The only price tag comes from relatively small government fees to help pay for regulation, and costs associated with the infrastructure needed to treat and move the water.

It’s become a sore point for many people that Nestlé, a subsidiary of Nestlé S.A., headquartered in Switzerland, may soon be given state permission to increase its groundwater pumping at an Osceola County well to up to as much as 210 million gallons per year, for the price of a $200 DEQ permit fee, as nearly 18,000 Detroit residents face potential water shutoffs for delinquent bills.

It’s the way things have always worked, but some are beginning to argue that needs to change. Fresh water, particularly in the 21st Century, is considered the world’s most valuable commodity by many, only growing in importance as global water supplies become more challenged. And yet it’s not priced that way when it comes to withdrawing it from the ground and waterways.

“The value of water and pricing, not to mention privatization and commodification of water, are turned upside-down,” said Jim Olson, an environment, water and public interest lawyer and founder of the Traverse City-based nonprofit For Love of Water, or FLOW.

“Companies who sell water gain high profits off the backs of a nonprofit, cost-based system. It’s ridiculous; a gross imbalance; water injustice.”

It’s enabled, in part, because Americans are spoiled when it comes to abundant, affordable water, said Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona law professor and author of “Unquenchable — America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It.”

“We wake up in the morning, we turn on the tap, and out comes as much fresh water as we want, for less than we pay for cell phone service or cable television,” he said.

But even in a water-abundant place like Michigan, the supply is finite.

“Think of the groundwater aquifer as a giant milkshake glass, and each well as another straw in the glass,” Glennon said. “What Michigan and other states permit is a limitless number of straws in the glass. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s absolutely unsustainable.”

Water use isn’t as much of a concern when it’s returned in an unpolluted form back to the water system where it came. It’s so-called consumptive uses, where the water is gone from the watershed after it’s used, that are of most concern.

Pfizer, for all the groundwater it extracts, consumes only about 2% to 3% of the water it uses.

“Pfizer operates its largest manufacturing plant in the world in Kalamazoo County, producing active pharmaceutical ingredients and sterile injectable medicines,” company spokeswoman Kimberly Bencker said in an e-mailed statement. “These manufacturing processes require large amounts of water — between 12 million and 15 million gallons daily. Fortunately, nearly all of that water is returned, after treatment, to the  environment, and we’re able to do so safely, rapidly and in compliance with environmental regulations.”

Power plants, many using hundreds of billions of gallons of Great Lakes water per year for cooling and other uses, generally return all but a small percentage of that water to its source, said Andrew LeBaron, an environmental quality analyst with the DEQ’s water resources division.

“For power plants, it varies quite a bit what that consumptive rate might be,” he said. “It ranges from a fraction of a percent up to 80%, depending on the power plant. Any of the groundwater-fed ones would be nearer the 80% (consumptive rate).”

Perhaps counterintuitively, agricultural irrigation is considered one of the larger consumptive uses of large-scale water withdrawals. That’s because a significant percentage of the water, once it flows to crops, is lost to the local water system through plant absorption, evaporation and runoff. The 1,452 farms reporting large-scale water withdrawals to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development used 98 billion gallons of mostly groundwater in 2014.

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Avoiding harm

The DEQ generally doesn’t judge the purpose for which a company wants a large amount of water. Instead, it works to assure that large withdrawals do not cause an “adverse resource impact”: Harm to fish, streams, wetlands, and other animals and their habitats.

Since 2006, Part 327 of the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act requires that large water withdrawals cause no significant reduction of nearby stream flows or fish populations. The state in 2009 began use of an online Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool to help prospective large-scale water withdrawers, those intending to pump more than 100,000 gallons of water per day.

“There’s a user interface; it asks you whether your withdrawal will be from surface or groundwater,” said James Milne, great lakes shorelands unit supervisor for the DEQ’s water resources division.

“If it’s groundwater, are you putting a well into bedrock or a glacial aquifer? It asks for the location of your withdrawal, the pumping rate and the schedule of when you will be pumping.”

The tool then serves as a conservative screen, utilizing groundwater and fish population models to assess the potential for an adverse resource impact to fish or stream flows from the proposed withdrawal.

“If you pass the screening tool, you’re able to register your withdrawal with the state, and you’re good to go,” Milne said. “If you don’t pass the screening tool, you have to request a site-specific review by DEQ.”

In those instances, DEQ staff looks more deeply at the proposal to see  whether the model reached the wrong conclusion.

That’s what happened with Nestlé’s proposal to increase flows from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute at an Osceola Township groundwater well, as part of a proposed expansion of its Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Stanwood. The state’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool initially rejected the proposed increase; Nestlé officials requested a site-specific review, and, relying largely on the company’s own stream impact data, DEQ staff ultimately recommended approval of the increased pumping. The agency has yet to grant the permit.

The Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool sounds like a great resource, Glennon said. But “the devil is in the details,” he said.

“If the staff is simply trying to conform the model to what the actual, real-world-time pumping does, that would be consistent with good, scientific practice,” he said. “But if the model is good, and for some political reason, they want a different result, that’s terrible.”

Those pumping even more water, more than 2 million gallons per day, require a Part 327 permit from the state that not only looks at fish and stream-flow impacts but whether the withdrawal meets additional state and federal requirements related to economic and social development and environmental protection, Milne said. A dozen such permits have been issued so far, including for eight municipal water supplies, for St. Mary’s cement plant near Charlevoix and the Lafarge Presque Isle Quarry.

Michigan’s Part 327 is focused on additional, new withdrawals from a surface water or groundwater aquifer. Those pumping water prior to 2009 — no matter how much — are grandfathered in, their withdrawal considered part of the baseline.

“If there’s an adverse resource impact, obviously we can’t authorize any further withdrawals,” LeBaron said. “(But) anybody who had been approved previously, the presumption is you will not cause an adverse resource impact.

“Those baseline capacity withdrawals, the ones prior to this accounting system, are basically exempt from the prohibition of causing an adverse resource impact.”

That means that even if Michigan’s water situation dramatically worsens over the next century, those grandfathered-in, big withdrawers of water are locked in. “It’s not proscribed in the law as far as how to go back and revisit it,” LeBaron said.

State law allows for a stakeholder process in which those utilizing water from a particular water body or aquifer meet with a prospective new withdrawer, and attempt to “manage their water on the local level,” Milne said. To date, the process hasn’t been used.

The cost

Water isn’t priced in relationship to its value because basically, no one wants it that way — not residential consumers, not industries, not farmers, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, a nonprofit public policy organization.

“It’s an enormously controversial issue,” she said. “The United Nations treats the water that’s needed to sustain human life as a universal human right. But obviously, the provision of water requires very expensive public expenditures — and maintenance; it’s not just the building of the infrastructure initially. And you have very powerful lobbying from industries, from agriculture, from energy, to keep the cost of water low — even when it can be demonstrated they are using the water in atrociously wasteful, unsustainable and unreasonable ways.”

A better way, Felbab-Brown said, may be a tiered pricing program that allows families to have the 50 liters of water per person, per day that’s estimated to be needed for human survival at no charge, with additional water use — by them, by a business, or anyone — then priced on a rising scale based on water volumes used, and factoring in whether the use “serves public goals” or is purely profit-driven or “particularly wasteful.”

“You’d have to get past the initial and enormous problem of the public at large accepting that water is priced. And we are very, very far away from that,” she said.

“Persuading residents that they need to pay for what’s not an unlimited good — even though it’s falling from the sky — is very, very difficult. But in my view, it’s necessary.”

Circumstances in coming years — locally, nationally and globally — may be what causes the paradigm shift, Felbab-Brown said.

“What has, around the world, driven acceptance of water pricing is not enlightenment or benevolence, but dealing with acute water shortages,” she said.

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.

Michigan’s biggest water users

Total water use (per year, 2015)

Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant, Berrien County,  765.42 billion gallons (from Great Lakes)
DTE’s Monroe Power Plant, Monroe County, 559.05 billion gallons (from Great Lakes)
DTE’s St. Clair Power Plant, St. Clair County, 293.08 billlion gallons (from Great Lakes)

Total inland surface water use

Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock Complex, Bay County, 174.02 billion gallons
Consumers Energy BC Cobb Plant, Muskegon County, 83.87 billion gallons
Dearborn Industrial Generation, Wayne County, 66.2 billion gallons

Total groundwater use

Pfizer, Kalamazoo County, 6.934 billion gallons
St. Mary’s Cement, Charlevoix County, 4.261 billion gallons
Sylvania Minerals, Monroe County, 3.374 billion gallons

Source: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality


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