Analysis

For Each Gallon Of Water Michigan’s People Use, 288 Gallons Fall From The Sky

Really big-sounding water consumption figures appear much smaller when put in perspective

For every gallon of water consumed by Michigan’s residents and businesses, 288 gallons fall upon the state as rain, in an average year.

Since almost all of Michigan lies within the Great Lakes watershed, much of that rainfall makes its way into the lakes. From there it will eventually flow down the St. Lawrence River and into the Atlantic Ocean, or else evaporate into the atmosphere, to be replenished by new rainfalls.

According to the state, in 2015 about 187.7 billion gallons of water was consumed by Michigan’s people in their homes, farms, factories, businesses and electric power plants. That seems like a tremendous amount of water, but it appears much less so when compared to the amount of precipitation that falls on Michigan in an average year: 54.2 trillion gallons.

Here’s how those numbers look together:

     187,700,000,000
54,200,000,000,000

The gallons provided by rain is 288 times bigger than the amount of water used in Michigan.

The data for the calculations come from estimates provided by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The department approved a permit on April 2 to allow Nestle to remove 200,000 gallons per day from a well in its Osceola County bottling plant. That act set off a new round of discussion and some activism on the issue of industrial and commercial use of the state’s water resources.

Politicians on both sides of the partisan divide and of all ideologies have weighed in as well.

State Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, recently posted on Facebook his concerns that wells would run dry.

“If so many groups are opposed to this increase as well as the ridiculous amount of water already being taken for basically free, why do our laws permit such a travesty to our most precious resource?” Lucido wrote.

“I am no environmental scientist but I did pay attention in science class and why you take upwards of 400 gallons per minute out of water system there is going to be major negative impact sooner than later on the ecosystem.”

However, water use numbers that may appear really big may look a lot smaller looking when put in perspective. Industry accounts for 13 percent of Michigan water consumption, and abundant water is one reason the auto industry grew up in this state instead of someplace like Texas. And water bottling, including Nestle’s operation, make up just 0.26 percent of industrial use here.

Nestle’s bottling operation used 1.1 million gallons of water per day in 2015, according to the MDEQ. U.S. Steel was the state’s largest industrial water user at 146.4 million gallons per day. Agriculture irrigation is the largest consumptive use of water in Michigan, accounting for 39 percent.

The state of Michigan considers the Great Lakes, surface water, and groundwater to be interconnected parts of a single hydrologic system. The well that Nestle uses is called White Pine Springs and is connected to the Great Lakes via Chippewa and Twin Creeks. Those creeks flow into the Muskegon River, which flows into Lake Michigan. It is estimated that Lake Michigan holds 1.3 quadrillion gallons of fresh water and the all of the Great Lakes hold an estimated 6 quadrillion gallons (6,000,000,000,000,000.)

Nestle is now permitted to use up to 73 million gallons a year at its facility in Evart Township in Osceola County. The township gets an average 32.73 inches of annual rainfall, which drops a total of 20.5 billion gallons of water upon it in a typical year.