One supporter of a public water utility pulled a bicycle trailer filled with clean mugs and a dispenser.
A soggy sign on the dispenser parked on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn said this: "Water. Stay hydrated."
On the side of the trailer, a colorful plaque had these words along with painted blue drops: "Water for the people (We are made of water!)"
On the eve of the trial between the city of Missoula and Mountain Water Co. and The Carlyle Group, an estimated 50 people gathered Tuesday on the courthouse lawn, most to show their support for local ownership of the water company.
Speakers thanked Mayor John Engen and Missoula City Council members for their pursuit of the company, blasted multinational firms such as Carlyle, and repeated their mantra that water in the Missoula aquifer should be for people in the Missoula Valley.
"Whose water?" said various speakers.
"Our water," yelled the crowd.
Samuel Thompson carried a sign that read "Flush Carlyle," and the Missoula resident and Mountain Water customer said he wants the city, not the global equity firm, to own the water company.
Carlyle bought the company in 2011.
"The bonus for corporations is to have customer satisfaction and ensure low rates, and that's going to be the city's No. 1 priority," said Thompson, an environmental studies student at the University of Montana. "I also like the fact that the water utility will be held accountable blocks and not miles away through the PSC's process."
Currently, the Montana Public Service Commission in Helena regulates the water utility.
Dodie Andersen, who wore a sticker that said "Take Back the Tap," said she doesn't think water should yield profits to investors out of state, much less out of the country.
Carlyle has proposed to sell Mountain to a Canadian corporation, Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp.
"It's a basic vital resource that everybody needs," said Andersen, a retired teacher who lives in Missoula.
Council members were among those who took the microphone on the blustery afternoon. Councilman Jason Wiener said when powerful corporations want something, government generally opens the door, but in Missoula, the fight was on.
"When they don't, you get what we have right here. You get frivolous legal filings tossed out from the court, one after another. You get PR hacks, full-page ads, Facebook campaigns putting out slanted messaging," Wiener said. "The fact is the water underneath this valley belongs in the trust of the people of this valley. It does not exist to be extracted for profit."
Neva Hassanein, who teaches in the environmental studies program at the University of Montana, drew parallels between Big Agriculture and corporations turning a profit over water. She also thanked Engen and the council members who support the quest for municipal control.
"I'm so glad that we have elected officials who are willing to hold one of the most powerful corporations in the world accountable. I am proud of them for speaking truth to power," Hassanein said.
Councilman Bryan Von Lossberg, who has been studying Algonquin and subsidiary Liberty Utilities, said those companies make their motives and priorities clear in presentations posted on their website.
"In Mountain Water, they see an opportunity to take advantage of aging infrastructure, to deploy more capital with low risk, to deliver higher returns," Von Lossberg said.
Utilities need capital investments, he said, and he isn't opposed to profit. However, Von Lossberg said aspiring owner Algonquin makes it clear the consumer, the water user, is an afterthought in the equation.
"There's a last bullet point," Von Lossberg said of one presentation he viewed. "And that bullet point starts out by saying, 'Bonus.' This will lead to customer satisfaction and system reliability. A bonus."
The trial begins 9 a.m. Wednesday in Missoula County District Court, with Judge Karen Townsend presiding.
In a tweet, Councilman Adam Hertz, who has opposed the city's lawsuit, noted the trial will be streamed live on the city of Missoula's website, ci.missoula.mt.us, and on MCAT, Missoula Community Access Television.
The Missoulian also will provide live coverage, via Twitter, on Missoulian.com and will link to the live stream as well.
The rally was organized by UM Climate Action Now, UM Take Back the Tap, Free Cycles and the Montana Student Activism Association.