Conservation colleagues: Swier was a leader, organizer, water defender and community builder
The world of grassroots water conservation in Michigan lost a pillar of the movement last December with the passing of Terry Swier. Swier is the Mecosta librarian who had the audacity to confront Nestle over its taking of groundwater for bottled water.
In the early 2000’s as Nestle was setting up shop, Swier and a group of Mecosta residents formed Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, teamed up with environmental law attorney Jim Olson, challenged the corporate giant and were victorious against all odds.
The full story of how Swier and her MCWC colleagues prevailed, with the support of Olson who navigated the legal minefield, is chronicled in the 2007 book, Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Groundwater. The book’s authors referred to Swier as the “unlikely activist” as prior to taking on Nestle, Swier said she “wasn’t active in anything.”
They also pointed out that Swier and her grassroots collaborators were essentially going it alone. The big non-profit groups working on water issues didn't (and perhaps still don't) make the connection to the long-term threat that bottled water diversions could be.
I didn’t know Swier and barely paid attention to her scrap with Nestle as it unfolded. But as I ramped up my reporting on Great Lakes water issues, the full impact of the threat and what she accomplished became evident.
Swier’s passing received little mention in the Michigan media and that’s a tragedy too. Today’s water conservationists need to know the story of those who paved the way for their work, because there's still a lot of work to do.
Swier was 77.
The latest MCWC newsletter has a tribute to Swier and attorney Jim Olson posted a remembrance here.
Chicago-based environmental journalist