In Drought-Ridden California, Activists Demand Repercussions for Nestle

Following a damning report on Nestle's water bottling operation in California, activists are calling for stiffer consequences for the company. (Photo: Mustafa Mohsin/flickr/cc)

In Drought-Ridden California, Activists Demand Repercussions for Nestle

Nestlé must cease bottling water altogether and not just renew its permit, environmental and human rights activists say

Following a damning investigation by the Desert Sun last month which revealed that Nestle had been using a long-expired permit to pipe and transport water from a national forest in drought-ridden California, activists are slamming the U.S. Forest Service's promises to make an investigation into the company a priority.

An investigation is an insufficient consequence--and the possibility of permit renewal is downright unacceptable, activists said.

The outrage follows comments made Friday by San Bernardino National Forest supervisor Jody Noiron, who told the Sun, "Now that it has been brought to my attention that the Nestle permit has been expired for so long, on top of the drought... it has gone to the top of the pile in terms of a program of work for our folks to work on."

"It's pretty amazing that the Forest Service doesn't keep better track of its environmental permits," Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr told Common Dreams, adding that the agency should be seriously considering not renewing Nestle's permits. "We are in a drought," Orr said. "Why the Forest Service would allow that to continue to happen seems pretty strange."

In its reporting, the Sun found that although Nestle had long drawn water from wells that tap into springs in California's Strawberry Canyon, the company's permit to transport water across the San Bernardino forest expired in 1988.

Moreover, the Forest Service had not assessed the impacts of the bottled water industry on streams in environmentally fragile areas, nor has it closely tracked the volume of water being extracted, the Sun found.

"The lack of oversight is symptomatic of a Forest Service limited by tight budgets and focused on other issues, and of a regulatory system in California that allows the bottled water industry to operate with little independent tracking of the potential toll on the environment," the Sun wrote in its investigation.

Renewing Nestle's permit could take more than two years, Noiron said.

Following the release of the Sun's investigation, protesters in California shut down the entrance to Nestle's bottling facility in Sacramento, while a petition by the Courage Campaign demanding that the corporation stop profiting from state water collected more than 135,000 signatures.

"While California is facing record drought conditions, it is unconscionable that Nestle would continue to bottle the state's precious water, export it, and sell it for profit," the petition reads.

Steve Loe, a former Forest Service biologist, has called for an immediate halt to Nestle's bottling operations and greater protections for streams in Strawberry Canyon and Deer Canyon.

"They're taking way too much water. That water's hugely important," Loe told the Sun.

"When you take water from the springs that are the source of those waters, you dry up these canyons," Loe continued. "And they're the most important habitats that we have."

Nestle is taking water "that belongs to the American people," Orr continued. With California in the midst of a historic drought, "It just doesn't make sense to allow a big company to profit from that."

Drew Feldmann, conservation chair for San Bernardino chapter of the Audubon Society, told the Sun that the situation was "deeply disturbing" and "raised serious issues of fairness, environmental justice, and the Forest Service's priorities regarding stewardship."

A separate investigation by the Sun, published last year, revealed that Nestle has not submitted annual reports on the amount of water it bottled since 2009. The San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency in its own report lists a "rounded estimate" of 244 million gallons extracted by Nestle per year.

Additionally, there is no state agency tracking how much water is used by the 108 private bottling plants in California, of which Nestle operates five.

Given the historic nature of the drought, Noiron added that the Forest Service might impose "interim conditions" on Nestle while the agency conducts its environmental review, but did not specify what those measures might be.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.