Order banning water removal stands
Ice Mountain must shut its west Michigan wells pending
By Tom Henry
A judge yesterday upheld his Nov. 25 order requiring Ice
Mountain Spring Water Co. stop taking water from its four
west Michigan spring wells by Tuesday, thereby putting
120 jobs in limbo.
The case has drawn attention throughout the Great Lakes
region because of its potential ramifications for the
worldís largest collection of fresh surface water.
Groundwater replenishes many of the rivers and streams
that feed into the lakes.
Legal experts wonder how some major groundwater disputes,
such as the one involving Ice Mountain, could affect an
agreement Great Lakes governors and premiers are expected
to finalize by June as part of a binational effort. That
agreement is to limit the amount of water that can be
withdrawn from the lakes and sold outside the region.
Judge Lawrence C. Root of Mecosta County Circuit Court
ruled Nov. 25 that Ice Mountain, a subsidiary of Nestle
Waters North America, was having an excessive impact on
west Michiganís groundwater supply since it started bottling
its Ice Mountain product there in May, 2002. Ice Mountain
initially built a $100 million plant, then spent another
$50 million to expand it. The facility is near Stanwood,
Mich., 50 miles north of Grand Rapids, Mich.
The judge gave Nestle until Tuesday to cease water withdrawals,
claiming that the size of the operation violates the intent
of prevailing common law. The company had obtained a permit
from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
to withdraw up to 400 gallons a minute, but the judge
said that permit was not valid because the Michigan legislature
never established parameters for groundwater withdrawals.
Yesterday, he declined to set aside his ruling pending
the outcome of the companyís appeal, which is expected
to take three to five years.
Ice Mountain will seek an emergency stay on Judge Rootís
order next week from the Michigan Court of Appeals. It
also will ask the judge for a new trial, based on data
it has collected since Sept. 1. The new data can prove
the regionís groundwater levels are subject to seasonal
variations, spokesman Deborah Muchmore said.
Keeping the order in effect will prompt Nestle to lay
off or reassign 120 of the plantís 147 employees by Jan.
31, she said.
"I am sorry to hear of the people who are going
to be laid off or terminated. But, as Iíve said all along,
the judge told Nestle twice - as they were building and
as they were expanding - that they were building at their
own risk," Terry Swier, Michigan Citizens for Water
Conservation president, said. The group is the plaintiff
behind the suit.
The west Michigan facility replaced one near Allentown,
Pa., as Nestleís Ice Mountain producer. The Allentown
facility, which bottles Nestleís Deer Park and Great Bear
products, could wind up as the Ice Mountain producer again,
officials have said. The company said it would be impractical
to haul spring water to the west Michigan plant from another
state. It also does not want to substitute local processed
water for spring water, officials said.