Battling Over Bottled Water
One of the last places in the world one would expect to find a battle over water is Michigan. Michigan, who once displayed “Water Wonderland” on its license plates, features more than 11,000 lakes and 36,000 miles of streams and one is never more than six miles from enjoying any one of them (Michigan Outdoors). Why then has a dispute over water rights escalated into several lawsuits? The purpose of this paper is to analyze the water rights case of Nestle versus Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) from the perspective of the libertarian, utilitarian, and Rawlsian theories of justice.
During the year 2000, Ice Mountain, a Nestle water bottling company, moved into Mecosta County, Michigan. Many Mecosta residents were thrilled to learn that Nestle decided to build their water bottling plant in their county. The plant employs about a hundred people and pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in local taxes, much to the delight of some residents and local government. They also built a 12-mile pipeline between their plant and 850 acres of private property for the purpose of pumping and selling up to 262 million gallons of water per year, much to the displeasure of the MCWC. The MCWC filed suit against Nestle alleging that the company had gone beyond reasonable use and is endangering the surrounding environment and future uses of the water. Scientists reported an adverse environmental impact, including a lowered water table and northern pike spawning difficulties. Nestle and local government officials, however, contend that the water bottling plant provides economic benefits to the community that far outweigh the small amount of water that is pumped which was reported at less than 1% of the annual recharge rate (Shaw & Barry, 2010). Is it fair to the owners of this private property to restrict the use of its water? Alternatively, does the community have a...