Appeals Court ruling blocks company from bottling water near Lake Superior

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Tuesday blocked a company from bottling and selling water from a private well in the Lake Superior watershed.

The ruling is the latest development in a years-long legal battle. In 2021, startup Kristle KLR was denied a county permit that would have allowed it to operate a pumping facility in Bayfield County.

At the time, opponents feared the project would allow the company to exploit a loophole in a historic agreement banning diversions of water from the Great Lake. Proponents argued that the well would access a confined aquifer that would not harm the surrounding water table, wetlands or Lake Superior.

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The company appealed the county’s decision, unsuccessfully, before taking it to the local circuit court and ultimately to the court of appeals. Kristle KLR’s plan faced opposition from environmental groups and the Chippewa Tribe of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior.

In December 2022, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a brief with the appeals court on behalf of Lake Superior Not for Sale, an organization created to oppose “water commercialization” in the Lake Superior basin.

Rob Lee, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said in a statement that Lake Superior is an environmental, cultural and economic treasure.

“Midwest Environmental Advocates was honored to work with Lake Superior Not for Sale and the rest of the community to prevent the exploitation of this valuable resource,” he said.

In a statement, Jen Boulley, of the group Lake Superior Not for Sale, said the organization was “greatly pleased” that the Court of Appeals upheld a Bayfield County Circuit Court ruling that blocked the project.

“We stand in solidarity with all those who protect water, but especially with the water itself,” she said. “Water is fiercely persistent and all will bend to its will if we force its hand.”