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A key ruling recently was issued by the Mecosta County Circuit Court in a case involving Nestle Waters North America, parent company of Ice Mountain Spring Water Company. Judge Lawrence Root ruled that the withdrawal of groundwater for bottling and sale is a lawful use of water one of several aspects of the lawsuit brought by Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC). The case is scheduled for trial in Mecosta County Circuit Court later this month.
In his ruling, Root stated that Ice Mountain has the right to use the water so long as other persons using water from the same source are not harmed in their reasonable uses. Under the terms of the ruling, the plaintiffs in the case must prove injury to their reasonable uses in order to prevail at trial.
The judge rejected MCWC's contention that Ice Mountain's use of groundwater violates the Public Trust Doctrine. In making the ruling, Judge Root noted that Michigan law limits the applicability of the Public Trust Doctrine to waters that are navigable for commercial shipping and/or commercial log flotation.
The Judge also rejected MCWC's theory that riparian rights apply in this case. Root said that riparian law applies only to surface waters, such as water in a lake, stream or river. Ice Mountain does not draw from surface water bodies, but from a groundwater source that is hydraulically connected to a spring.
"Extensive hydrogeologic and environmental evaluations have confirmed Ice Mountain's water withdrawals will have no adverse impact to area water users or the environment," said Jane Lazgin, spokesperson for Nestle Waters North America. "Additionally, Ice Mountain has implemented a state-of-the-art long- term monitoring program that relays key climate and hydrogeologic conditions directly to the bottling plant. The information is an essential resource management program that allows Ice Mountain to make science-based operational decisions, including pumping rates, that are protective of the environment, wildlife and residential water users."
The trial in Mecosta County Circuit Court will begin on Oct. 25, with Judge Root presiding. The questions to be decided at trial are whether the plaintiffs are being harmed in their reasonable uses of water by Ice Mountain's withdrawals, and whether Ice Mountain's withdrawals are causing, or likely to cause, the pollution, impairment or destruction of the environment.
This ruling was the third in favor of Nestle Waters North America in Michigan. In a ruling last year, the Court rejected MCWC's request to halt construction of the Ice Mountain plant; another case, brought in federal court by three bands of Michigan Indians, was dismissed in May 2002.
In May, Nestle Waters North America opened a bottling facility in Mecosta County for its Ice Mountain brand, which is sold in the Midwest. The plant is expected to employ 200 people at full operation. The plant and spring source operations meet or exceed all local, state and federal requirements, including regulations for quality control, labeling, and water withdrawals.