Pact reached: Nestlé agrees to reduced water taking in Mecosta County

Citizen group MCWC declares victory in case that changed state law

A grassroots Michigan group declared victory on behalf of the state’s water resources in July after a protracted nine-year battle with an international corporation’s water bottling operation in West Michigan.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), a MEC member group, stopped Nestlé Waters North America from pumping more water from a stressed stream in Mecosta County as part of a settlement agreement announced July 7.

“Nestlé must reduce its pumping earlier in the spring and continue its low pumping rates during the summer months when water levels are low,“ said Terry Swier, president of MCWC. “This will leave more water in the system and should eliminate the more serious impacts to the stream that occur in drier years and summers.”

The agreement was an improbable victory for MCWC in a David vs Goliath battle.

A trial judge stunned the state in 2003 when he sided with MCWC and against Nestlé’s army of lawyers. He ordered a halt to pumping after agreeing with MCWC’s contention that it was harming the ecosystem and reducing water levels in the Dead Stream and Thompson Lake watersheds.

Injunctions and other court rulings allowed the company to pump at reduced rates as the decision wound through the appeals process. The July agreement allows Nestlé to pump, but at rates far below its original intentions.

MCWC was created to defend the area’s water after Nestlé’s predecessor, Perrier, built a water bottling plant at a spring near Big Rapids in 2000. It quickly became apparent that the state had virtually no regulations or guidelines for water pumping operations. MCWC’s subsequent lawsuit along with citizen uproar led Michigan to examine its role in managing the water resources that define the state.

Eventually, in a compromise agreement that was supported by MEC and other major environmental groups, Michigan enacted the nation’s first science-based water withdrawal in 2008. MCWC was neutral on the legislation, believing it lacked important safeguards for Michigan waters.

MCWC is continuing to press for stronger state water protections, including a formal legislative affirmation that groundwater is held in the public trust by the citizenry of Michigan and is not a corporate commodity to be bought and sold.

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