While it’s nice that people are sending bottles of water to Flint, I can’t help but wonder where all of that money is going


I’ve been thinking a lot today about the millions and millions of little, single-serving bottles of water being sent to Flint by people around the world… On the whole, I think it’s a good thing. And I love knowing I live in a world where people so desperately want to help that they’re willing to pony up their own money and send send either a few bottles, or a few hundred thousand, to people who they don’t even know. With that said, though, I can’t help but wonder where all of the money spent on that bottled water is going.

I should add right up front, before I launch into my rant agains the bottle water industry, that I really don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I don’t know if, when people are buying water in bulk to send to Flint, the water companies are selling that water at cost. They may be. And they may also be sending water on their own to Flint, without any promise of payment at all. I don’t know. I mean, I heard that Absopure, which is a Michigan-based water company started a campaign where they’re matching purchases for Flint bottle for bottle, but I don’t know if the big players… like the Nestlés of the world… are doing anything similar. And, in their defense, they could be. My guess, however, is that they’re likely making money off of what is happening in Flint, and that bothers me.

Nestlé, by the way, is the biggest of the “big five’, when it comes to bottled water. As of this past summer, they owned 29.8% of the global bottled water market. And they’re growing. According to today’s news, the Swiss company’s stock has risen 2.48% over just the past five days. I have no way of knowing, of course, if that has anything to with the fact that 100,000 people in Flint have just sworn off tap water completely in favor of using bottled water, but I don’t imagine it hurts… If I were a smarter man, and a little more evil, I’d buy stock. Instead, though, I just thought that I’d complain about it online.

Out of curiosity, I just did some quick poking around to see how much, if anything, Nestlé had given to Snyder over the years. Maybe, in another state, a search like that would yield some results. In Michigan, though, where we just won the title of the least transparent and accountable state in the nation, such searches don’t generally yield much. I mean, I found that Snyder supported a partnership with Nestlé that allowed the company to supply “nutritional expertise” in Michigan schools, over the protests of many who felt as though said materials had a corporate bias, but I didn’t find any evidence of the company actually giving Snyder money. But, like I said, I wouldn’t expect to find evidence of that, seeing as how our Governor, who ran for office promising increased transparency, made sure that the identity of his donors stayed private by incorporating his “Nerd Fund” as a nonprofit “social welfare” organization, thereby ensuring all records remain secret. And, as we know, we can’t FOIA Snyder’s correspondences, as Michigan is one of only two states in the entire union where such things are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.

So I don’t know if there’s any way to find out how tied to “Big Water” our Governor is. I do know, however, that his former Chief of Staff, Dennis Muchmore, is married to Deb Muchmore, who happens to be a corporate spokesperson for Nestlé. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because, not too many years ago, she was the one explaining to us in Michigan why it was OK for Nestlé’s Ice Mountain brand to export so much of our most precious natural resource from Mecosta County. “Nestlé brings jobs and supports the economy,” she said at the time. “Ice Mountain cannot by law stop the flow of springs when they withdraw water,” Muchmore added. “They have not dried up any wells. No streams have dried up. No ecosystems have been harmed. The science backs this up.” Of course, this didn’t prove to be the case. As the result of a subsequent court case, in which it was brought to light that the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) had seen a “measurable impact on certain waters and wetlands” in the Muskegon aquifer as a result of Nestlé’s pumping, the plant was forced to cut its production by half. [It’s still unclear what the long range effects of years of extraction will be.]

By sharing all of this, I’m not trying to suggest that there was any vast conspiracy to drive up profits at Nestlé and move us one step closer to an America where all of our natural resources are owned and controlled by private entities. What I am suggesting, however, is that it’s complete bullshit that we’re counting on just ordinary people, and celebrities like Cher, to provide safe drinking water to the people of Flint. That, in my opinion, is fucking insane. And, furthermore, I think it’s obscene that bottled water companies are likely profiting on every one of the millions and millions of small bottles being sent to Flint. Yes, it’s nice that people want to be involved, but it’s a national disgrace that we’ve let it come to this.

Right now, at this very minute, the National Guard should have tanker trucks full of clean, drinkable water set up in every neighborhood throughout Flint. And they should be going door to door, handing out large, wheeled containers so that people can easily transport water, whenever they want, from these trucks to their homes… Wouldn’t that be exponentially more efficient than shipping millions of tiny bottles across the United States, especially since we have ready access to fresh, clean water right here in Michigan?

As for what we get this water from, here’s an idea… Why don’t we just go directly to the source? Why don’t we instruct the National Guard to drive directly to the Ice Mountain facility in Mecosta and just back their trucks up. Instead of filling tiny Ice Mountain bottles with our water, and sending them off to stores to be bought and sent back to Flint, why not just fill the trucks directly, and cut out all of the wasted steps and the plastic? I don’t know how receptive Nestle would be, but I’m sure, if our Governor just called Deb Muchmore and explained how serious the situation was, she’d be glad to help, right?

As for all of the good people around the U.S. who, understandably, want to contribute in some way, here are a few ideas that don’t involve buying and mailing small bottles of water… How about starting a fund at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center so that they can offer more in the way of outreach to families of young children suffering from the effects of lead poisoning? Or how about donating to the ACLU so that they can hire more investigative reporters, like Curt Guyette, who helped expose what’s happening in Flint, to make sure this doesn’t happen elsewhere? Or, if you want to send water, how about organizing a drive to send six-gallon carboys instead of costly individual bottles?

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  1. Murph
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    “How about starting a fund…”

    There is one, the Community foundation of Greater Flint’s Child Health and Development Fund

  2. Posted January 25, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Nice article, Mark. Have you donated water or supplies to Flint residents?

  3. anonymous
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Murph.

  4. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    So every time government fucks up, private companies have to jump in and foot the bill?

    In this case, that makes little sense, unless you are peddling simple politics of spite.

    Taxpayers voted for Snyder, they voted for this legislature, and those people fucked up. It’s worth noting that most people who voted for the current government, were not in Flint. Taxpayers have to pay. Outside of private companies, not sure where else you’re going to get water. Even with public sources, someone profits.

    Perhaps you’d like to have no water go there at all? Waiting for private companies to solve everything is just silly. After the news stories go away, they will go away and the purchasing and distribution channels will have dried up leaving public providers scrambling again.

  5. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    As for individuals sending water, that is equally useless.

    The taxpayers of Michigan should be forced to pay for this right now, and for a long time to come.

  6. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    If they don’t want to pay the tax, they shouldn’t vote in people who will allow this to happen.

  7. Demetrius
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I agree with Peter.

    Extra environmental damage, financial cost, and added profits for multinational corporations makes sending tens of thousands of individual bottles of water to Flint a bad idea – however well-intended the senders may be.

    (Every time I see one of those water collection drop-off displays, I feel like I am being guilted into contributing to help pay for Snyder and friends’ criminal act.)

    Instead, Michigan needs to use water-hauling trucks and establish distribution points in every Flint neighborhood.

    The idea that ordinary individuals should have to dip into their own pockets to buy water for victims of this tragedy … while there is no discussion of a tax increase on the wealthy and corporations (who have benefited tremendously from Snyder’s regime) to help pay for this mess is just offensive icing on a disaster cake.

  8. Posted January 26, 2016 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    For the reasons I outlined above, D’Real, I have not sent bottled water to Flint. I have, however, donated money to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Child Health & Development Fund. And I continue to urge our elected officials to implement a comprehensive water delivery program that isn’t dependent upon the purchasing of bottled water by individuals.

    Like I said in the post, though, I’m happy that people are sending millions and millions of bottles to Flint. It’s desperately needed. I just think that it’s not a good long range plan. At some point, the likes of Cher and Pearl Jam are going to turn their attention elsewhere, and we need to plan for that. Individual contributions just aren’t sustainable.

  9. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    In my view, everyone should have to pay for this, not just “corporations.”

    The voters are also complicit.

  10. Mr. Y
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    There is no question that the people of Michigan will pay for this, Peter. There will be a “Snyder” tax on all of us for decades to come. And, as you point out, we deserve it.

  11. Jcp2
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink


    Peter is correct. The voters in Michigan have been snydered. Word of the year for 2016.

  12. Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Individual donations aren’t sustainable, agreed. However it’s important that we (the concerned citizens 50 miles south of Flint) don’t turn our attention elsewhere.

    I’d like to learn more about donating money to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Child Health & Development Fund. Please send me an e-mail with deets!

    I along with a group of artists and activists will continue to support the families at the YWCA Women’s Center (in Flint!), if you’d like to help us make sense of a long range support strategy, it would be much appreciated.

    Again, nice article.

  13. Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Donate bpa-free water bottles, water filters, and 32-pack 16.9 oz water bottles at the UAW Local 898 Mon-Fri, 8:30am-4:30pm. Deadline for donations is Jan. 27, 2016; http://ht.ly/XoWhQ.

    Please consider the following (‪#‎RightNowInFlint‬):

    • 56% of Flint residents that were impacted by the water poisoning are black.
    • Over 9,000 youth tested positive for lead, an irreversible neurotoxin, which leads to brain damage and violent behavior.

  14. Elviscostello
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Another worthwhile recepient of donations would be the folks at Virginia Tech. They and the MD at Hurley did so much of the work to bust this thing open. They could use funds as well.

  15. Gillian
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    One of the online ordering places (can’t remember which one–costco? amazon?) had said early on that they were paying sales & shipping for bottled water sales to flint addresses and had also gotten the company to discount it to the “at cost” price. but yes, a lot of money is going right back into the hands of water-poisoners. ironic.

  16. Gillian
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’d also like to share this comment from a friend who lives in Flint, which I think is relevant to those trying to help:

    A thought for anyone organizing bottled water drives for Flint residents: Please consider putting resources toward making sure families have NSF-certified on-tap filters and replacement cartridges rather than bottled water. Each cartridge gives a family about 100 gallons of clean water, and bottled water contains all kinds of leached toxins (including carcinogens) from the plastic. Water filters are a more financially and environmentally sustainable solution, and many people in Flint are going to need help acquiring replacement cartridges for the filters distributed by the Genesee County Health Department and other entities.

    If my memory serves, my zip code had the highest percentage of reports of child blood poisoning in Flint. A few months ago while I was pregnant, I had my blood lead level checked and it came back normal. While I did not do a scientific study to prove what caused that result (maybe my property was one of the ones spared from high lead leaching… I don’t know), we had used an NSF-certified filter for cooking and drinking water since shortly after the switch from Detroit to Flint River water since my legs started swelling up (probably from the high level of sodium chloride) whenever I drank the tap water. The swelling stopped when we started using the filter and it seems to have protected me from the lead during my pregnancy. My point is, on-tap filters seem to be the safest and cost effective option for Flint families. Beyond advocating for the water system infrastucture (pipes, etc.) to be replaced, let’s make sure families have filters rather than cases of bottled water with different kinds of toxins!

  17. Mr. Y
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The rich get richer. The poor get poisoned.

  18. Christine Moellering
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Just read on Twitter this morning that Jimmy Fallon is trying to get all his rich friends to donate $10k each to this fund. So far Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna have both chipped in. https://www.cfgf.org/cfgf/GoodWork/FlintArea/WaterCrisis/tabid/855/Default.aspx
    so hopefully that’s the right place to give the money.

  19. Bethany Schultz
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Jumping up and down with gratitude for this post! This is what i have been saying!!!!

  20. Posted January 26, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Re: “countertop water filters”: Flint resident’s filter after a few uses

  21. Posted January 26, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU! I also applaud folks who are driving up to Flint, donating, etc. but there has to be a way to get potable water up there that won’t also kill the environment, right? Right? Maybe?

    I also can’t imagine that recycling the bottles is on the tops of anyone’s mind. Murph told me that the city has every other week pick up, which isn’t enough when you are getting all of your water from those little bottles. And seriously, if I were in that situation, about the last thing on my mind would be hauling bottles to the recycling center, if I even had means to do it.

  22. Jean Henry
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Ideally, given that potable water crises are inevitable in the near future due to climate change, we will figure out a better way to service water needs during this one. It’s not a one off situation and it wont only be poor people affected. Widespread water scarcity is inevitable and the water companies know that. They also know that business interests will be competing for the resource for manufacturing (like fracking) and driving up costs and limiting access to individuals. They are betting on it. The CEO of Nestle blocked water from being declared a human right at the World Water Summit in 2000. He believes all the world’s water supplies will be privatized and should be for maximum profitability. He argues that this will also provide maximum water supply security. I would ask for whom? And at what cost. I see the Flint situation through a much larger lens of water resource insecurity. These issues aren’t going away. It’s not localized. I welcome any solutions that come from Flint,but mostly a larger awareness that fresh potable water is the one natural resource we can not live without. And it is threatened.

    And also, screw the bottled water industry. They are both depleting our aquifers and making money on every water crisis. That is their business plan– To both exacerbate the crisis and profit from it. They are not good actors on the international stage. I agree that we will all need to pay for the fix. It’s notable that only the water companies (who employ very few people in the process) are going to be making money on it. Look at Nestle and the CA drought for more fun and games.

  23. Lynne
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Man, I wish there was a good way to make the right Michigan taxpayers pay for this. But there isn’t one.

    The people responsible for this haven’t changed their anti-tax stance and frankly, if taxes get too bad around here, they will move. However, the more likely scenario is that they will approve new taxes but only if they are regressive so that they can make the poor folks pay for it all.

    That, right there, is a flaw with any kind of government run by the people. A majority can really stick it to a minority easily. And if you think the majority that voted for Snyder is going to suddenly want to accept responsibility for this, you are mistaken.

  24. Eel
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    When Snyder took over they cut the Michigan Business Tax and started taxing the retirement income of the elderly. Maybe the elderly have a little more to give.

  25. Meta
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of Rick’s donors, did you see who would be investigating him on behalf of the state?

    Weeks after refusing to even look into allegations of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) announced on Monday that he is appointing a special counsel to investigate the situation. Schuette said that he has selected former prosecutor Todd Flood, a donor to both Schuette and Gov. Rick Synder (R), to determine whether anyone broke state law.

    Snyder has been criticized for his administration’s handling of the crisis, which has left tens of thousands without safe drinking water and may have caused irreversible damage to Flint children, including allegations that they did nothing even after learning the water was not safe to drink. A class-action lawsuit filed by Flint residents alleges that both Snyder and the state government breached their contract to provide drinkable water and of violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by saying it was safe.

    Schuette, whose office is also responsible for defending Snyder in the class action suit, vowed to establish “an ethics-based conflict wall between him and his investigation team, and the team defending the governor and state departments against Flint water-related law suits.” As part of this effort, he appointed Flood to be special counsel and former Detroit FBI Chief Andrew Arena to assist the investigation.

    Flood vowed to “provide Michigan residents with an impartial answer to the question of whether any state laws were broken.” But his own impartiality could come into question. According to National Institute on Money in State Politics data, Flood contributed $3,400 to Schuette’s 2010 campaign and $6,800 more to his 2014 re-election effort. He also gave $1,000 to Synder’s 2010 campaign committee and $2,000 for his 2014 race.

    Read more:

  26. Judy
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    While those who voted for Snyder and his Tea Partiers are to blame, they won’t be the ones who pay the most. Those who pay the most will be the poor and elderly. Just watch.
    And really who has benefited from these Snyder years? Snyder’s Corporate Cronies.
    So yes they should be donating and paying….they’ve gotten everything they wanted out of this criminal.

  27. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Some of this started with Granholm.

  28. Anonymous
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    And some of this started with Engler.

    People weren’t being poisoned until Snyder took over, though.

    What’s your point?

  29. Jay Steichmann
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    You are spot on with this. While the citizens of Flint deserve fresh, clean water, it is the state & county & municipality’s responsibility to see that this happens NOW and not by enriching the coffers of Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi who siphon off OUR water and package it in these little receptacles of pollution (the plastic bottle). The people who are donating water are doing good–but the delivery system is flawed. FIX FLINT NOW!

  30. Peter Larson
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    People are implying that only persons who voted Republican are responsible. This is incorrect.

    All voters are complicit.

  31. Anon
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    @Peter Larson:
    Those who voted to repeal the emergency manager law in 2012, before the lame duck legislature and Snyder worked around the clock a month later and rammed it down our throats again (plus right-to-work), the Capitol surrounded by riot police — are they complicit?
    Michigan voters said no to the emergency manager law that engler and granholm gave us. Snyder and the legislature said fuck you. Not sure how to feel complicit about that.

  32. Demetrius
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    @ Peter

    I agree that in a so-called “democracy” all citizens (rather than voters) are responsible.

    Still, I don’t think this is an either-or situation. I think there is a spectrum of responsibility.

    I think the wealthy, corporations, and the largely white, affluent areas that supported Snyder and his pals (and who largely benefited from his policies) are substantially *more* to blame than poor and working-class people in communities (like Ypsilanti) who largely didn’t vote for him, and who have mostly suffered under his policies.

    As far as Republicans vs. Democrats … I agree with you that Granholm and her fellow Democrats also installed so-called “Emergency Managers” and did little to help struggling urban communities like Detroit or Flint. Still, this particular crime (poisoning the water supply of a major American city and injuring thousands of kids) was the direct result of decisions made by Snyder and his cronies … and I think the burden of responsibility on him and his allies is substantially greater – and likely worthy of prosecution.

  33. Peter Larson
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Mostly, I agree with you.

    Regarding the accountability of Flint, however, they are also responsible for voting in their local government, the mess of which predicated the assignment of the FM.

    My view is that we are all responsible, to varying degress, perhaps, but all responsible in the end.

  34. Eel
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, the people in Ann Arbor are upset about the deer.

  35. Lynne
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Regarding the accountability of Flint, however, they are also responsible for voting in their local government, the mess of which predicated the assignment of the FM. ”

    To some degree, they do bear some responsibility. However, the voters of Flint and other poor cities probably are less to blame than you think. You can’t segregate poor people into a city and then expect them to pay for all of the services to that city. Heck, you can’t decimate the public education in a city and then expect voters to be able to engage in the kind of critical thinking necessary to vote well. Well, you can, obviously, since that is what the voters of Michigan have chosen to do. However, you can’t do that and then not expect bad things to happen.

    I think the stuff at Detroit Public Schools is a good example of a systemic problem like that. Do the voters bear responsibility when even with an EMF in charge for years, things have gotten worse? Doesn’t that speak to larger systemic problems?

  36. Kim
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Michael Moore agrees with you.

    “How can you help Flint?” he says. “Do not send bottled water. Instead, join us in a revolt.”


  37. Demetrius
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Yup, Flint residents (including children) clearly deserve everything that is happening … especially since they allowed large, multinational corporations to use their people and infrastructure to make cars (and record profits) for decades – before allowing them to abruptly flee to locations offering lower wages, lower taxes, less regulation, and no unions – leaving behind a decimated tax based, and the burden of maintaining decrepit infrastructure, and cleaning up mountains of industrial pollution.

    If only they had planned better …

  38. Rat
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    “It’s hard to think of an issue that you would less like your company to be associated with than modern slavery. Yet last November Nestlé, the world’s largest foodmaker and one of the most recognisable household brands, went public with the news it had found forced labour in its supply chains in Thailand and that its customers were buying products tainted with the blood and sweat of poor, unpaid and abused migrant workers.”


  39. Hamilton
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    They don’t mention you in their report, but Democracy Now is making the same connection between Flint and Nestle.


2 Trackbacks

  1. […] these people are dealing with. A decent leader wouldn’t be at a hidden party in Ann Arbor, counting on the people of America to send individual bottles of clean water to the people of Flint. And I sure as hell don’t think a good, responsible leader would have told people as late as […]

  2. By How You Can Stop Nestlé in Michigan on January 8, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    […] year, at about this time, we had a conversation here about Nestlé’s aggressive push to extract, bottle and sell Michigan’s fresh water. Well, as you may hear heard, the Swiss company now has plans to nearly double the amount of […]

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