U.S. Water News Online
LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan Court of Appeals dug into a
dispute over a bottled-water company's ability to pump spring water
from wells, weighing the competing interests of businesses, other
landowners and nature lovers who have a stake in a valuable state
The case directly involves an Ice Mountain Spring Water plant in
Mecosta County, which is opposed by local residents and property
owners who say groundwater withdrawals are unsuitable for the
environment because they drop water levels and flows in neighboring
lakes, streams and wetlands.
But the lawsuit may be important on a statewide scale because the
three-judge panel could set legal rules for pumping groundwater. The
oral arguments came three weeks after the administration of Gov.
Jennifer Granholm announced it will reverse long-standing policy and
regulate any future groundwater withdrawals that would change the
size of an inland lake, stream or river.
Adam Charnes -- an attorney for Ice Mountain's parent company,
Nestle Water North America Inc. -- told the court that Nestle's use
of the spring water is reasonable and safe for the environment. He
argued that pumping the water, bottling it and shipping it around the
Midwest is no different from companies using water to make soft
drinks, chemicals or any other products.
"I don't think the law can make a distinction between a Coca-Cola
plant, a potato plant or Nestle Waters," Charnes said.
He also argued that Nestle uses a small amount of water compared
with other manufacturers. According to Nestle spokeswoman Deborah
Muchmore, water bottlers who pump their own water account for less
than 1/100th of 1 percent of water use in Michigan.
But Jim Olson, an attorney for Michigan Citizens for Water
Conservation, said bottled water distributors should be regarded
differently than municipal water plants, farmers, golf courses and
others who use groundwater locally -- not elsewhere.
"We should not sacrifice water, our economy and hundreds of
thousands of jobs that depend on this water so a foreign company can
sell it somewhere else and deposit money in its own bank account,"
At least 30 members of the citizens group traveled to Lansing for
the oral arguments.
Nestle Waters, based in Greenwich, Conn., is the country's largest
bottled-water company. It opened its Mecosta County plant in May 2002
despite objections from some residents. The residents had sued in
Mecosta County Circuit Judge Lawrence Root in November 2003
ordered Nestle to stop drawing water from the wells, saying the
withdrawals caused a "material diminishment" of water flows and
levels in neighboring lakes, streams and wetlands. That decision has
been put on hold during Nestle's appeal, allowing the company to
continue pumping water.
During arguments, Judges William Murphy, Michael Smolenski and
Helene White asked questions about the potential effects of their
Murphy wondered if it was possible that common law does not
specifically address the type of dispute involving groundwater
withdrawals and the rights of other riparian, or waterfront, property
owners, and speculated that new laws may be needed.
"It may be that the entire situation is ripe for legislative
involvement," he said.
In late May, besides changing course on regulating groundwater
withdrawals, Granholm also slapped a moratorium on new or expanded
bottled water operations in Michigan until the Legislature enacts a
water withdrawal law.
The state Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit
for Nestle to buy water from the city of Evart's municipal system for
bottling at its Mecosta County plant. The permit requires the water
from Evart to be sold only within the Great Lakes basin, which the
company labeled unprecedented and unfair.
Overall, there are about 20 bottled-water operations in Michigan.
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