GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state has approved a permit for Nestle Waters North America, Inc. to pump more groundwater near Evart so it can expand production of Ice Mountain bottled water.

In a Monday release, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted that most of the public comment it received on the matter opposed the booster. However, it said it had to allow it anyway because it met the requirements of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.

“…Most of them (the comments) related to issues of public policy which are not, and should not be, part of an administrative permit decision. We cannot base our decisions on public opinion because our department is required to follow the rule of law when making determinations,” DEQ Director C. Heidi Grether said in a statement.

Grether said the Nestle application review was the “most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.”

“We are hopeful that whether residents agree with the Nestle permitting decision or not, they will acknowledge and respect the work that MDEQ staff did to thoroughly and conscientiously apply the law in reviewing the permit,” her statement said.

>>PDFs: DEQ on issuing Nestle permit | Full permit

The booster station would be added to Nestle’s White Pines Springs pump in Osceola Township. The township initially denied the company’s 2016 request to build the booster station, but its decision was overruled by a Mason County judge in December of last year. The township is appealing.

With the booster installed, the well will be able to pump 400 gallons of groundwater per minute, nearly doubling the current rate of 250 gallons per minute.

On Monday, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, a vocal opponent of the booster station, said in a statement it was “very disappointed that the MDEQ has chosen to circumnavigate the law and grant the permit to Nestle…”

The MCWC went on to say the DEQ had ignored evidence of environmental damage and residents’ opposition and that it hadn’t set up independent scientists to monitor area streams. The conservation group also noted that the township’s appeal is still pending.

>>PDF: Full statement from MCWC

Nestle next has to write up a monitoring plan for the DEQ’s approval. After that is OK’d and officials get baseline data on pump operations, the company can up its pumping rate.

Nestle provided this statement to 24 Hour News 8 Monday afternoon:

“We have received a copy of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s permit decision authorizing our requested withdrawal. We will need time to carefully review the specifics, but will comply with all permit requirements. We appreciate the MDEQ’s careful review and consideration of our application, in what it has called its most thorough review ever, and we look forward to providing them with the monitoring plans as required.”