Is water a basic human right or a commercial product for profit? How would you feel if you knew Nestle Waters North America bottles, exports and sells water from the Great Lakes? Would you be dismayed? Concerned? Incredulous?
In 2015, California (where I live) is entering its 4th driest year since 1850. Many citizens must purchase water for their day-to-day use. Yet, Nestle (Coke, Pepsi and Evian Water) are allowed to harvest the water from the Great Lakes Basin and sell it for profit to other countries.
Twenty-one percent of all the fresh water in the world comes from the Great Lakes Basin. The Great Lakes Basin (which includes the Great Lakes and the surrounding areas in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada) is 295,200 square miles. Its direct runoff and watershed feed into the lakes. The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Compact of December 2008 is a legally binding interstate compact between the Great Lakes Basin states (not including Ontario, Canada) that details how the states must manage the use of the basin’s water supply. There is a provision in the compact that allows for water to be diverted from the Great Lakes Basin in containers holding 5.7 gallons or less. This is known as the “Bottled Water Loophole.” The debate is over the sale of water to other countries (China) in disposable containers by companies such as Nestle.
Since 2000, Nestle has been packaging and selling water from the Great Lakes Basin (mostly from aquifers in Mecosta County, Michigan) and calling it “carefully selected spring water.” Nestle Waters sells its bottled water worldwide and makes billions of dollars with no profit given to the local communities. Even with Lakes Huron and Michigan at record-low levels in 2012-2013, Nestle was still allowed to draw 218 gallon of water per minute at its Ice Mountain (Michigan) site, further lowering the water table, creating problems for shipping in the Great Lakes and causing property owners’ wells to run dry.
Since 2013, the Great Lakes’ water levels have risen. However, with global warming, pollution, a growing population and the introduction of invasive species, commercialization of the Great Lakes water will continue to be a point of contention between for-profit companies and the more than 26 million people who depend on the Great Lakes Basin for their fresh water supply. Is water a basic necessity for life, a commercial product or a resource to be exported? What do you think?