Jim Olson is the environmental attorney who represented the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in their six-year battle against a damaging Nestle Waters of North America water extraction operation.
This story has more twists and turns than a mountain road, but there’s a reason Nestle would like to pretend this story didn’t happen – or worse, whitewashes the incident with corporate videos misrepresenting the basic facts of the case.
Here’s one factoid many will find interesting – despite all their posturing to the contrary, Nestle lost in Mecosta County, and lost big – despite bringing an inordinant amount of legal fire power to bear.
What’s worse, the whole ugly episode puts the sword to Nestle’s contention that they’re deeply concerned about the watersheds they tap.
If they were, they wouldn’t have fought the MCWC for six years, only to end up where the MCWC wanted them to begin with.
To get a sense for what happened, here’s an excerpt from Jim Olson’s Op-Ed piece, which you really should read in its entirety – and then save it for use next time a Nestle representative starts making noises like an environmentalist:
What happened in the Michigan Citizens for Water versus Nestle case that put an end to Michigan’s longest water battle, and what does it mean for the future of Michigan’s water?
In 2000, after being turned down in Wisconsin, food giant Nestle moved into Michigan to generate support for high-capacity water wells for its Ice Mountain bottled water brand at the headwaters of the Little Muskegon River. Nestle representatives claimed the company’s studies demonstrated that pumping 400 gallons per minute (gpm) — 210 million gallons a year — would not harm the wetlands, stream and lakes.
A group of Big Rapids-area citizens formed Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and began asking questions; they also asked Nestle to release its expert reports to the public. MCWC’s experts advised that pumping would reduce the flow of the stream 28 percent and the level of two lakes by as much as 6 inches, a substantial loss for the critical headwater stretch of this diverse riverine system.
Then MCWC’s experts discovered that Nestle’s computer model was flawed: It included a “boundary” — a fixed assumption that the headwater lake and stream had an infinite amount of water. Incredibly, the model would never show impact. Over citizen protests, scientific evidence and legal arguments calling for a rejection of the proposal, the state issued a permit in 2001. MCWC had no choice but to file a lawsuit to uncover the truth and stop a private takeover of Michigan’s water.
In late 2003, Mecosta County Judge Lawrence Root, after a 19-day trial, found that the proposed extraction would cause substantial harm at any rate of pumping, violate long-standing water law principles and impair the water resources, contrary to environmental laws. As a result, Judge Root issued a permanent injunction ordering Nestle to stop all pumping. For a brief moment, a David organization, by then 2,000 members, stopped a Goliath corporation from confiscating Michigan’s water.