For years now, a small town in Michigan—a state with a name that literally originated from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake,” has been in a water fight against the household brand Nestlé.
The second-highest court of Michigan has given a legal blow to Nestlé’s Ice Mountain water brand, ruling that the company’s industrial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or even a public facility.
The court of appeals ruling may be a win for the town of Osceola, the mid-Michigan county that spearheaded the movement to stop Nestlé from building a pumping station that doesn’t comply with the local sectionalization laws. However the case might consequently become a problem in Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water around the country.
If the company successfully does such plans, then it will have to be legally sanctioned as a public water source that renders an essential public service. A Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent the town in the case but has earlier fought with Nestlé in court, stated any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility is simply ridiculous.
In a comment regarding the issue Olson stated, “What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact.”
The ruling made last December 3, might also influence state environmental regulators to amend permits that enable Nestlé to draw water in Michigan.
The Osceola case begins from Nestle’s effort to increase the volume of water it draws from a questionable wellhead in the neighboring city of Evart from just 250 gallons per minute to about 400 gallons per minute. The effort requires Nestlé to build the pump in a children’s campground in Osceola county to carry the increased load through a pipe system.
In 2017 the county had already rejected the proposals based on its local zoning laws, and Nestlé consequently sued. A lower court signed in late 2017 that water was indispensable for life and bottling water was an “essential public service” that matched a need, which shaded Osceola county’s zoning laws.
Nevertheless, a three-judge committee in the appellate court nullified the decision.
The judges recognized that water was indeed “essential to life,” but addressed that the circumstances where the same water is marketed also had to be considered.
Their appeal affirmed that retailing bottled water in a region where tap water is accessible is unnecessary.
The judges wrote, “The circuit court’s conclusion that [Nestlé’s] commercial water bottling operation is an ‘essential public service’ is clearly erroneous.” Highlighting their claim that bottled water is only essential to areas wherein free and tap water is conveniently available.
The court wrote that infrastructure that contributes vital public services incorporated electrical substations, sewage facilities or other comparable structures. And obviously, Nestlé’s pumping station appears unfit in any of those categories.
The trio also opposed with Nestle’s dispute that it served a “public water supply.” They said state law clearly signifies public water supplies are “conveyed to a site through pipes” while superfluous water is produced in bottles.
They then finished with the conclusion that Nestlé’s suggested booster-pump facility “is not a ‘public water supply.'”
In a comment to the Detroit Free Press, Nestlé’s natural resource manager, Arlene Anderson-Vincent, stated the company believes their proposed plan adhered with Osceola’s site plan and specific land use standards.
She said the company will assess its potential following measures in the judicial process.
As briefly mentioned above, the court’s decision might also have an influence on the state permit that allows Nestlé to increase its extraction capacity to 400 gallons per minute. Michigan’s department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) gave the permit partly because it determined Nestlé provided an essential public service and was not damaging the local water table.
Numerous Native American tribes and environmental attorney Ross Hammersley are questioning the said grant in state administrative court.
They explained that Nestlé is extorting water and exporting it to different regions where it is simply unable to replenish the water table, and, dangerously doing so at a rate faster than the aquifer can recharge.
Therefore, it should be an irreparable reduction unless the pumping is decreased or terminated altogether.
The administrative court’s verdict is anticipated early next year, although Olson said that he already sees the most recent decision as a huge win.
The administrative court’s verdict is anticipated early next year, although Olson said that he already sees the most recent decision as a win.
When it comes to the deeper mystery of water “ownership” Jim Olson said that the state and public do because marketing bottled water for profit is clearly private, not public.