Nestles gets to keep taking Michigan water

Nestle Waters North America had a mixed reaction to an opinion recently issued by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Court ruled on an appeal by Nestle Waters to a controversial 2003 Mecosta Circuit Court ruling that was in error and would have shuttered its Michigan operations, if upheld, according to the company. The Court stated definitively that the use of water by Nestle Waters is a beneficial use and ruled that the company's water use at its Stanwood-based Ice Mountain bottling facility could continue. The ruling today keeps nearly 200 employees working at the facility.

The Court's ruling also supported Nestle Waters' legal arguments in upholding Michigan's historic water use laws, which allow for the balanced and reasonable use of water by all parties. The ruling also affirmed the standards of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), as well.

The Court of Appeals specifically found that:

** Bottled water is a proper and beneficial use of water in Michigan;

** Nestle Waters has the right to withdraw water, the rate to be determined under a balancing test to be applied by the trial court in upcoming proceedings;

** The Mecosta Court did not apply the proper standards under Michigan's groundwater law and under MEPA, and the case must be reconsidered with application of the proper standards; and

** The Court reduced the interim pumping level to 200 gallons per minute from 250 gallons per minute average. Nestle does not agree with this, as current pumping levels at 250 are not causing adverse affects.

The company, however, expressed strong concern that the Court of Appeals, in sending the case back to the trial court for reconsideration, apparently excluded consideration of additional environmental monitoring and water use data gathered at the site over the past several years. Nestle believes the data gathering since the trial more than two years ago should be considered as it shows that the plaintiffs' theoretical projections were unsound. Michael Haines, an attorney for Nestle Waters, said, "We believe it is fundamental to fairness that this evidence be received by the court as it considers the questions directed by the Court of Appeals."

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) had previously awarded Nestle Waters all permits required of all water bottling operations in
Michigan. Bottled water is also regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure the quality and proper marketing of bottled water beverages. The more than 20 water bottlers operating in Michigan together represent a very small water use, amounting to about 1/100th of 1 percent of fresh water used in the state. "Nestle Waters exercised great care in obtaining all appropriate permits and worked in full co-operation with state regulators," said Haines. "Today's decision allows us to demonstrate again the company's responsible actions at every step of the process."