I Drank From the Stream

Here in America we hear talk of California’s drought, but they still get water. We hear of Flint, Michigan, but they still get brought clean water. All with difficulty of course, yet in other parts of the world, two million die each year from diseased water and a billion lack access to clean water. The reasons for this are numerous, warfare, chemical dumping, poor economy, the list continues. But what really hits home is when one begins talking about the privatization of water, a human right. Major businesses around the world are taking control of this resource in a very aggressive manner. Companies like Coca-Cola, Suez, and Nestle are multinational conglomerates that control so much, they have moved into the business of controlling the rain itself.


But this project is not about the vast masses who have been wronged by the corporations. I will be speaking about a county of Michigan named Mecosta. A little over a decade ago, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave permits to Nestle to pump 400 gallons of water per minute from places that lead into Lake Michigan. However they do not pay a dime for doing this, in fact, they receive a 13 million dollar tax break for doing so. A spokesperson for Nestle said “We are deeply invested in the Muskegon River watershed and its sustainability. Our water use is always permitted and compliant with the permitting authorities.” However they completely prevent others from using the water. The excessive amount of water they are pumping lower the rivers and create mud flats. What was once clean water for drinking now is poisoned by dirt and runoff. This water leads from aquifers into the Great Lakes Basin. The president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation says, “It’s part of the commons. It belongs to all of us.” Now this is clearly rival as it is preventing the town from making use of their aquifers by turning them into mud flats. It is also non-excludable as it is not on private property and the water can be taken by anyone, that is until it is taken to the point it is dried up.

Michigan Mudflat

Now as for the 5 P’s model for Nestle, it may differ from their actions. The first is Property Rights. Now while the exact pumping sites are privately owned, it draws water from many public lands. Nestle received rights to the land for 99 years, for the astonishingly low price of 63,000 dollars. Second is Prescriptive. The best course of action here is to either remove themselves from the area or heavily compensate the town. Now removing themselves would mean only taking amounts of water that does not harm the area. Since they have passed this point there is little that can be done to repair it apart from ceasing operations. Thirdly is Payment. Now apart from the payment for the land ownership, they only pay 200 dollars for the hundreds of millions of gallons that they pump from the ground every year. Each local pays about $1.50 for every 1000 liters of water. Seems like very little but Nestle pays only $3.70 for every million liters. They also receive large tax rebates each year, meaning that they do not contribute to the local economy. This means that compensation would either involve a yearly contribution to each owner who water they have taken, or a removal of the tax rebates. Fourth, Penalty. This abysmal treatment of the town lead to the town suing Nestle. After much time and money spent, they were ordered to cease all operations. However not long after they appealed the courts decision and were allowed to resume operations. Now any further penalty will likely result in the same solution that was brought up for the payment section. Finally is Persuasion. Apart from the law suits there has been little done. With such a large corporation there is little more you can do but be persistent. Nestle has clearly been heavily involved in persuasion however. At one point, a very small explosive went off destroying a well head. The FBI arrived at the home of the treasurer of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. A person who had been very outspoken in their actions. The FBI decided that here uncle was responsible, only to find him in a wheel chair since he had no legs. Clearly the wrong suspect.

Now clearly there have been little to no incentives given to the citizens of the county, leading to much public outcry. There are several organizations and movements to prevent further drilling, but it shows no signs of slowing. Sometimes when a small number of people go up against a company worth hundreds of billions, there is little to be done.

This topic becomes more and more relevant everyday as this issue comes up around the nation, the most recent being at Standing Rock. But they have still done more than most and continue to do so with the hope that one day they will cease operations.