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Great Lakes Article:

Judge backs water bottler on 2 issues
Trial now to focus on contention that taking groundwater could harm citizens, environment
Associated Press

   BIG RAPIDS -- A judge has issued two rulings favoring the defendant in a lawsuit filed by a citizens group against the operator of a water-bottling plant in Stanwood.
   On Tuesday, Mecosta County Circuit Judge Lawrence Root affirmed his own Oct. 4 ruling in which he rejected a claim by Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation that Ice Mountain Spring Water Co.'s use of groundwater violates the Public Trust Doctrine.
   The doctrine is a historical and evolving concept relating to the ownership, protection and use of essential natural resources.
   Root noted that Michigan law applies the doctrine only to waters that are navigable for commercial shipping or commercial log flotation. The bottling plant draws its water from underground.
   On Thursday, Root dismissed a contention in the suit that the withdrawal of groundwater by Ice Mountain, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America, is a misappropriation of state-owned property.
   Root ruled that the state does not own the groundwater that Ice Mountain withdraws. Instead, he said property owners have a right to withdraw water from beneath their lands as long as it does not unreasonably interfere with others' use of the water from the same source.
   With those arguments no longer part of the case, a trial scheduled to begin May 5 will focus on the plaintiff's claims that the water's withdrawal has harmed, or is likely to harm, the members of the citizens group and the environment.
   The judge's decisions did not surprise Terry Swier, president of the citizens group.
   "It seems to me that Judge Root is very narrow in how he has looked at this case," Swier told the Pioneer of Big Rapids.
   Michael Haines, a Grand Rapids lawyer for Nestle Waters North America, was pleased by the recent course of events.
   "The rulings this week by the court follow established Michigan law and constitutional principles," Haines said.
   Production started May 4 at the southwestern Mecosta County plant, where water is piped in from wells about 12 miles to the northeast.
   The plant has a state license to withdraw up to 575,000 gallons daily from beneath the ground.
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