Groups call Nestlé ruling a win for Michigan's water, democracy

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MICHIGAN CITIZENS FOR WATER CONSERVATION
  • Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation

Despite a legal victory against a major corporation, environmental and community groups are not letting their guards down when it comes to protecting Michigan's water. The Michigan Court of Appeals last week ruled Osceola Township had the right to deny a zoning permit to Nestlé for a booster station to increase water extraction.

The company had argued local zoning officials were improperly influenced by public opposition. But Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, says the court ruled that elected officials should be sensitive to residents' concerns, and would be wrong to not take public opinion into account.

"It's a beautiful ruling on democracy, on the rights of citizens to actually elect the people that they want and expect them to perform on their behalf," Case says.

The court also stated it was "erroneous" of the circuit court to rule Nestlé's water-bottling operation is an essential public service. The company wants to increase pumping rates at its Evart well from 150-200 gallons per minute to more than 400 gallons per minute. The permit to increase production still is awaiting a ruling in a Contested Case filed by Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.
Nestlé can appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court, or try to get the property rezoned. Case observed the company wants the water, and she's anticipating their next move.

"They were going to try to run trucks on these rural roads. There's some possibility they might try to run another pipe," she says. "So they have other options and, of course, we would attempt to counteract anything they might do to be even more destructive to the environment than they already are."

Since 2000, Nestlé has extracted more than 4 billion gallons of water from Michigan. Case says her group has been struggling ever since to get the attention of local and state leaders.

"We just filed a complaint for the failure of the state to help us deal with Nestlé's grabbing of public water and forcing a small environmental group to spend buckets of money doing the kind of work that the state should be doing," she says.

Meanwhile, a "Water Protection Package" was introduced in the Michigan House last week. It aims to clarify that the waters of the state are held in the public trust, and prevent Michigan's waters from being privatized by corporations.
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