Times of Peril and Promise
The triple crises of global pandemic, climate change, and rising assaults on social and environmental justice have brought us to the brink of radical transformation in the way we live on this singular planet called Earth. We still have a chance to choose life over extinction, but time is running out. Unless by some miracle we figure out how to live without the services of the living earth in its diversity, complexity and beauty, we will go the way of the dinosaurs and it won’t be a pretty picture.
Many people all over the world know they are in crisis. They live with growing poverty, war, natural disasters, pollution, racism, and inequity every day. Many are working to find solutions and turn to a better future for their children. The forces that stop them are entrenched in our cultures and institutions however, and it will take many more years of global commitment and revolutionary change in the way we do business before we know whether or not we will continue as a species.
The Work of MCWC in these times
What does this dramatic statement have to do with the work of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, which is to protect water from pollution, plunder and privatization for future generations? We are among the many millions of groups and individuals around the world working to change the relationships we have with our earth, our life support systems, and with each other. Water is the thread that we follow in our particular role in this work. Everything alive connects to water, as we know. We will not survive any of the crises we face unless we figure out how to insure access to clean water to all living beings. So our job is a very important one in the grand scheme of the Great Turning toward life affirming cultures and values.
We are water. What happens to water happens to us. We can survive without oil and money, but not without water. This is a simple fact, yet we have participated in building institutions and ideologies that totally ignore it. We have mastered amazing technologies, plundered the earth for wondrous minerals, invented endless new toxic chemicals, supported a small class of glutinous wealthy individuals living off the work of the rest. Yet we have not mastered caring for and protecting the water and land that gives us life. We have imagined that we are the top species in terms of intelligence, yet the tiny honey bee figured out long ago how to sustain living systems and its own community without harming any other life forms. Will we learn how to do it too before it is too late? We have to work as if it is possible or it will never be.
The Story of Now
Over the twenty years of MCWC existence, we have evolved from a group of citizens concerned about the effects of a multinational corporation on one stream and two lakes in a rural corner of Michigan to an organization that has taken on a respectable role in the water justice movement internationally. This is no small accomplishment. We are not alone in taking this path and have joined with a number of other groups to magnify the effect we can have. Our children are counting on us to continue this work.
The forces of greed and destruction have no intention of folding up without our pressure. Nestle isn’t selling its bottled water operations because it wants to save our streams and lakes. It is selling to direct its energy to more profitable parts of its global operations and to get away from the high profile resistance the international movement has mounted to stop their water grabs and polluting practices. We have had a part in this and intend to pay attention to the behavior of whatever corporation takes their assets over. We also plan to continue holding Nestle and others accountable for the damage they have already done to maximize corporate profit. We will continue to seek restoration of healthy ecosystems while we also advocate for water justice throughout the state and beyond.
Pandemic slows us down a bit
The pandemic has put some restrictions on our work. We have not been tabling at events as those events are cancelled. We have not been able to hold our own events and fundraisers where we can interact in person as we normally like to do. We have had to learn to navigate zoom meetings. When the powers that be ignore us or issue rulings we do not like, we cannot rally in the streets and storm the capital. Too many of our members and supporters are vulnerable and we support efforts to gain control of the virus. We have found it necessary to turn more of our attention to efforts to get access to water to those in need, particularly in the cities where shut-offs have been the rule. We have therefore let some of our other work move closer to the back burner for now. This is temporary.
A final ruling on the Contested Case with the Nestle permit for the well in Evart is awaiting the decision of Lisle Clark at EGLE. The Judge made his recommendation, which we did not like, but Clark has the final say and we have been advocating with her, the Attorney General and the Governor for that decision to be a withdrawal of the permit. We have had help from some of our allies like Sierra Club, FLOW, People’s Water Board, Freshwater Future, Water is Life Alliance. To date there has been no response from the state other than a statement by an EGLE representative to the press saying they did exhaustive study of the site and MCWC isn’t telling the truth about damage to the ecosystem. This statement is a direct lie, as we document in our newsletter. None of our members affected by Nestle’s pumping have been consulted and no on- site visits have been made to investigate that we are aware of.
We filed a complaint with the Environmental Justice Advocate at EGLE, Regina Strong, independent of the Contested Case, months ago. No response. We filed a formal complaint by registered letter with the Attorney General with regard to the damage to the ecosystem already done by Nestle pumping since 2011, and asked for an investigation by her office. This was almost two months ago and we have not had a single response from the AG’s office. Needless to say it has been a great disappointment to us that the “new” administration is operating with the same policies as the old. Whatever Nestle tells them is viewed as the scientific truth and there is no need to even look at the data provided by our members who live in the affected area. Same old story of allowing the fox to be the guardian of the hen house.
It is also the same old refusal to uphold the mandates of the Constitution and the laws of Michigan in the face of corporate deceptions and greed. The public trust continues to take a back seat when it comes to dealing with Nestle.
We recognize that the State is facing unprecedented challenges now with the pandemic, the economic meltdown, the endless maneuvering to try to shut down Line 5, and the rising and necessary movement to deal with institutional racism at all levels of society. We know it is an election year and attention goes to all kinds of political stuff. The fate of two creeks and an aquifer in rural Michigan must seem like a low priority. We get that. But we also know that after 20 years of combatting the effort by Nestle to privatize the waters of the commons, we deserve at least a response from the State. We are, after all, doing its work with no pay whatsoever, no profits for shareholders, no cost to the treasury. We expect and we deserve, as voting and tax paying citizens, the same respect given to a Swiss multi-national corporation here only to extract the natural resources of our state.
Actually we would expect that our collective years of service to this state would warrant even more attention and response than given Nestle’s lobbyists. We are the teachers, state troopers, farmers, truck drivers, surveyors, nurses, librarians, community organizers, foresters, factory workers, office workers, and service workers who sustain our communities. We aren’t going away. We actually live here and are raising our families here. Therefore the fate of our waters is our fate. We don’t intend to let water become captive to private, profit-seeking corporations that will control access to the most essential component of living systems.
What we Want (the short list)
- We want a real investigation by the Attorney General’s office of the ecosystem damage done by Nestle in Osceola county.
- We want restoration ordered and the permit to increase pumping by Nestle ruled void.
- We want to be given the opportunity to meet in person with the Director of EGLE, and the Attorney General. We want to hear from the Governor. We are not interested in invitations to quarterly mass meetings of “stakeholders.” Every citizen is a stakeholder.
- We want transparency without having to spend a fortune on FOIA requests that produce no information. We want to know just how much influence in Lansing and elsewhere Nestle has bought with offers of “free” water to Flint and Detroit. Water that belongs to all of us in the first place.
- We want a state-wide water affordability plan and public infrastructure upgrades so no one has to rely on single use plastic bottles and feed Nestle profits to exercise the human right to water.
- We want all our members and supporters to call, email, and post on social media to insist that our leaders respond to our submitted requests for action and investigation. Let them hear from all of us now. Insist that they respond.