Dry Land

What you see depends on where you stand. From here, the Great Lakes look like an unblemished marvel. Like the Rockies they seem impervious to our puny touch.

From the water-starved west, they look like salvation, a soothing drink for land that has been thirsty as long as we’ve known it.

And to Nestlé and other big corporations, they look – practically free!


Lake Michigan. What’s it for?

For a $200 a year permit, the Nestlé corporation removes hundreds of millions of gallons a year from the Great Lakes. Then they put a brand name on it, encase it in plastic, and ship it out to be consumed by Ice Mountain customers across the Midwest. Their nine wells each pump 400 gallons a minute apiece as of 20181. That’s over 210 million gallons per well, or almost 2 billion gallons a year.

The Great Lakes, for those who haven’t just read about them across the Internet, are a finite resource. The water in them was captured millennia ago from glacial melt and forms a continuous system. About 1% a year evaporates, and about 1% is returned through precipitation. Many corporations and municipalities around the edges use the water, treating and replacing most of it. According to the Summary Report referenced below1, the public water supply withdraws a total of 5558.49 Mgal (US)/day, with a consumptive use of only 745.62 Mgal. And that water is serving the public good, not enriching a multinational corporation.2 I It is also returned to the watershed. Nestlé returns nothing.

b9327367273z-1_20170427185329_000_gs0i7480q-1-0So where are the checks and balances?

In the past, attempts to divert water from the Great Lakes basin to Arizona or Canada via pipeline, to China via boat, among others, alarmed governments around the Lakes. They saw the danger inherent in depleting a non-renewable resource and took concerted action.

The resulting Great Lakes Compact was ratified by all eight Great Lakes States, approved by both houses of Congress, and signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008. It created a standardized set of tools and protocols for the management of Great Lakes water.

The agreement restricted withdrawals that have a measurable negative impact on a surrounding watershed. It resulted in municipalities facing more restrictions to access the water. Waukesha, WI, took over five years and $5 million to get a permit for water use, and they return the water. How on earth did Nestlé get by the Michigan DEQ for a $200 permit fee? Especially since of the 81,862 comments received by the DEQ on the project, only 75 were in favor of it?

Upper Michigan’s own Bart Stupak voted against the 2008 Compact, saying “Ratifying the compact could allow Great Lakes water to no longer be held within the public trust and instead be defined as a product for commercial use.”

A clause in the agreement allows water shipped in containers less than 5.7 gallons to be exempted, no matter how many such containers are involved. This is the loophole that allows Nestlé to profit by more than $15 million a day on public water – and that figure comes from an article written before the new Nestlé permits allowed the robbery to double.

When I was in high school, we lived outside the city, which meant past the water lines that supplied Fort Collins with Rocky Mountain water. It cost $7 then for 2000 gallons, hauled to our cistern and lasted 10 days to 2 weeks. We took short showers. We did not water a garden. We were extremely conscious of the scarcity of our resource.

When a friend’s younger brother peed in our cistern, it was a HUGE deal. We couldn’t drink our water for the time it took to use that cistern full, bleached to purity, for washing or other non-consuming uses.


Not one but TWO of my lovely water barrels. The fence is for the deer. The weeds are my own…

My husband thinks I’m weird because I want rain barrels to water my garden from, though they have to be stirred to remain mosquito-free during the season. They feel like safety to me. Having one is now illegal in Colorado, where the rain from God is now owned by the State and used as part of the water rights they’re trashing by fracking.

Steven grew up here, in the fertile Midwest. One thought for Flint, however, shows me that no system is secure. Trusting something this important to others is not in my comfort zone.

The World Bank and UN predict that by 2030, we’ll have a world where 3 billion people do not have consistent access to clean, affordable water. I’ve been close enough to that to appreciate what it means. When we pumped all our water by hand, it took 40 pumps to fill a watering can. A flush was 38 pumps. The half-gallon pitcher we refill the water filter with takes six.

What can we do to protect our water? I’d suggest starting by boycotting Nestlé 3, and indeed, any other bottled water company. Mining is mining, and we have alternatives. Municipal water supplies vary, but their test results are public and you can access them. A good filter (like my Berkey4) is a wonderful tool and worth the cost if only as an alternative to using those icky plastic water bottles. My stainless steel bottle keeps water cool for longer than it takes me to drink it, and I know what’s in the water. (Nothing but water and ground minerals.)

A little activism can go a long way, too – if you have the chance to speak for the waters, take it. Even if, as with the Michigan DEQ, your overwhelming majority opinion means little to the Powers What Are, water is who we are. It’s absolutely vital. Your opinion matters, and so does voicing it.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner Coleridge uses one of the saddest lines I know: “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” It sounds to me like an epitaph.(Limited bibliography below)


At Gran’s, it’s legal to play with the cat’s water bowl!

CHILD OF THE WATER by Kathryn W Morski

Child of the water
West Wind’s daughter
Sweet summer baby, wildflower child,
Blossoming daily, sunny and mild.
Warm as all the love you bring,
Causing summer birds to sing in my heart.

Skin berry tinted  (Smooth as petals to my work-roughed hands.)
Hair sun-glinted  (Walking lightly on the sun-warmed sands.)
Lessons you’ve brought me, songs on the wind.
Love you have brought me time without end.
And I can feel it glow like summer sun
To last long after summer’s done in my heart.

Child of the water (Swift streams tumbling, silver pools for mirrors.)
West Wind’s daughter (Restless, breathing through the green-gold cedars.)
Sweet summer baby, wildflower child,
Blossoming daily, sunny and mild.
Warm as all the love you bring,
Causing summer birds to sing in my heart.


Bond Falls recreation area. What is water for?

1 https://freshwaterfuture.org/policy-memo/a-great-lakes-water-war-nestle-the-great-lakes-compact-and-the-future-of-freshwater/
2 https://waterusedata.glc.org/graph.php?year=2012&type=summary


Lower levels continue to worry us – except when there’s an onshore wind.





Filed under Alternatives, Change, commerce, Michigan, Philosophy, Uncategorized, Water