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Campaigners calling for public control of water are hosting a Virtual Rally to Reclaim Nestlé's Troubled Waters at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday. (Image: The Story of Stuff Project/Twitter)

Campaigners calling for public control of water are hosting a Virtual Rally to Reclaim Nestlé's Troubled Waters at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday. (Image: The Story of Stuff Project/Twitter)

Backing Push for Public Ownership, Tlaib Will Join Virtual Rally to Reclaim Nestlé's Troubled Waters

"Communities across the continent are now calling for Nestlé's existing contracts to end, and for local stewardship over the groundwater."

Jessica Corbett

Justice campaigners and critics of the world's largest water bottler—including Rep. Rashida Tlaib—plan to join a digital event on Thursday to "stand with communities across North America demanding that Nestlé return six of its most controversial water sources to their rightful owners: the people."

The Virtual Rally to Reclaim Nestlé's Troubled Waters will be streamed on Facebook and YouTube by the California-based Story of Stuff Project, a movement that began with a 2007 online documentary that "unleashed a torrent of pent-up demand for honest conversation about our consumption-crazed culture."

The 7:00 pm ET rally will feature Tlaib (D-Mich.) as a speaker and musical guests. In March 2020, Tlaib and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), then vice chair and chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on Environment, launched an investigation into the bottled water industry's practices.

"The subcommittee is concerned that Nestlé is taking a critical public resource from communities in need without equitably reinvesting in those communities and ensuring long-term environmental sustainability," Tlaib and Rouda wrote in a letter (pdf) requesting information and documents from Nestlé Waters North America.

At the time, a statement from Tlaib's office noted that the company has "financially benefited from low-cost or no-cost permits from communities across the United States as well as the federal government. For example, Nestlé customarily pays approximately $200 per facility to extract groundwater from Michigan cities and communities."

Nestlé S.A., a Swiss multinational, announced in February a $4.3 billion agreement—set to be finalized this spring—to sell Nestlé Waters North America to a pair of private equity firms, One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co. Nestlé's water brands include Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Poland Spring, and Zephyrhills.

The Story of Stuff Project responded to Nestlé's planned sale in a joint statement with groups across the continent—Our Santa Fe River in Florida, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Unbottle & Protect Chaffee County in Colorado, Community Water Justice in Maine, and Wellington Water Watchers in Ontario, Canada.

The announcement of the sale agreement "reveals the stark choices our communities and nations face to ensure real water security in the future for all life," the groups said. "Of greatest concern, this sale will continue the corporate control of water. The combination of decades of pollution, depletion of aquifers, and effects of climate change make clean water scarcer."

"Tragically this combination of public risk and private greed creates the conditions where Wall Street seeks to transform water from being the source of life to a source of private wealth," the statement continued. "Now is the time for real leadership, now is the time to end the bottling of water for profit."

In November 2020, the organizations had delivered a joint letter signed by over 100,000 people across North America to Nestlé's Swiss corporate headquarters. The letter focused on six operations the groups called "emblematic of Nestlé's broader, unethical approach to water extraction" and pressured the company "to divest these assets prior to any sale of your bulk bottled water brands."

The targeted operations are:

  • The Arrowhead complex in the San Bernardino National Forest, California (Arrowhead brand);
  • The Ruby Mountain Springs complex in Chaffee County, Colorado (Arrowhead brand);
  • The White Pine Springs complex near Evart, Michigan (Ice Mountain brand);
  • The Ginnie Springs complex near High Springs, Florida (Zephyrhills brand);
  • The Aberfoyle complex of Nestle Waters Canada in Wellington County, Ontario (Pure Life brand); and
  • The Evergreen Springs in Fryeburg, Oxford County, Maine, (Poland Springs).

"We request that when the rights to these waters are privately owned, you revert those rights to the public trust, including through direct transfer to a park or other publicly controlled institution, to Indigenous peoples on whose treaty lands Nestlé operates, or through the creation of a conservation easement," the letter said.

"Where access to waters is publicly granted, we request that you cease water extraction at these sites and abandon these permits and any associated rights," the letter added. "In all cases, it is critical that the company engage directly and meaningfully with local stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples, about the ultimate disposition of these waters."

Ahead of Thursday's rally, Community Water Justice co-founder Nickie Sekera of Fryeburg told The Conway Daily Sun that "communities across the continent are now calling for Nestlé's existing contracts to end, and for local stewardship over the groundwater."

Sekera praised Tlaib for listening to her constituents and expressed hope that Maine's federal and state officials will "finally" engage on the issue, adding that "it's past due that our elected leaders work toward stronger water protections for the people and environment and not for water privatizers such as Nestlé or One Rock."

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