12:30am: Battle over water still unresolved

By MEHAK BANSIL
Special to the Record-Eagle

Published: December 14, 2009 12:30 am

LANSING — Environmental interests in Michigan said the fight to stop privatization of part of Michigan’s water resources isn’t done.

Following a courtroom battle between Nestle Waters North America and environmental groups over a bottling plant in Mecosta County, the organizations are pressing state lawmakers for steps to preserve Great Lakes waters.

“We don’t want to destroy the beauty and wonder for the Great Lakes by bottling it and then selling it to other countries or states,” said Linda Berker of Davison, the Sierra Club’s Nepessing Group’s conservation chair. “Our legal structures should act to preserve the water.”

In the highly publicized Nestle case, the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2005 allowed Nestle to extract water from the area under its property. Environmentalists argued the decision meant any corporation could argue it has a right to bottle Michigan’s water resources.

The parties settled that case in 2006 when Nestle agreed to limit its daily withdrawal to 313,000 gallons. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation prevented Nestle from pumping water from a stream in Mecosta County this summer.

Traverse City-based environmental lawyer James Olson predicts that the appeals court’s legal reasoning will lead to exploitation of a valuable natural resource.

“Water has been public for over 2,000 years,” said Olson, who represented Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in the Nestle litigation. “The privatization of such a public resource will turn the society on end, and the public won’t accept that idea.”

But Andy Such, executive director of the Michigan Bottled Water Council, said bottlers don’t extract a significant amount of water.

The amount drawn by Michigan farmers for irrigation is roughly a million gallons a day, he said, compared with a maximum 313,000 gallons extracted by Nestle.

Mehak Bansil writes for Capital News Service at Michigan State University.

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