Before and after Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottled water operation in Evart, MI
It’s common in the summer months for many Chicago beachgoers to complain about the smell or dirtiness of Lake Michigan. They do so often without realizing the true treasure that it really is. Lake Michigan is part of the Great Lakes, which contains 21% of the world’s fresh water and form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. In Chicago alone, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) operates the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world. Add a filter on your faucet and this is just about the best water you can drink.
This great natural resource is free and open to public use, and unfortunately, corporations affecting this environment do so at the same rate. Residents and companies in the U.S. do not have to pay for water if they extract it themselves, which is also pretty scary given how unregulated the water bottle market is. Nestlé, a Swiss beverage company, only pays $200 annually for a permit to pump 130 million gallons of water each year from the state of Michigan. The Great Lakes are what’s known as the Commons, because it’s a resource we all share. But this does not mean lake water should be turned into profit by private corporations. It should remain shared and cared for by all of us. If we allow this exploitation to continue, our surrounding landscape and environment will begin to change drastically, not to mention the risks to our pocketbooks and health - we will continue to be charged exorbitantly high costs for water bottles, and our drinking water is at risk of becoming contaminated.
How is it possible that we allow companies to take advantage of something so precious to us? We’ve witnessed what’s happened in Flint, Standing Rock, and many other cities across the U.S. when companies do as they please in the land we call our home. Why aren’t we camping out at the lakefront to protect our water from further exploitation? Just last April the U.S. Steel plant in Portage leaked hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical made famous by Erin Brockovich, into Burns Waterway, a Lake Michigan tributary, forcing the closure of beaches in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We should be protesting any chemical or oil companies wanting to set up shop along our water front. Lake Michigan should be the next Standing Rock.
It’s not just those living in the Midwest who rely on the Great Lakes. Those affected by recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma depended on bottled water from our lakes during the disasters. These victims surely know just how precious clean drinking water is. Those who have not lived through events like this or visited third world countries may easily take the amenities we have for granted. We cannot let corporate greed poison and deplete our most valuable possession.
There are many things you can do to take a stand for our lake even if you can’t be out on the front lines.
1) Educate yourself. The Great Lakes are critical to our survival.
2) Keep in touch with organizations fighting to protect our lakes and educate Great Lakes residents like The Freshwater Lab at UIC and the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Follow their work on social media to hear about upcoming events and the latest developments happening regarding our lakes.
3) Invest in a water filter for your faucet at home from your local hardware or department store for as little as $60.
4) Don’t support Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s unsustainable drainage of our lakes and freshwater source.
I hope you feel encouraged to join and even organize movements and actions around this issue.