Environmental groups have joined forces to sue Nestlé over the extraction of ground water from drought-plagued Southern California. Tens of millions of gallons of water are piped out of San Bernardino every year to be bottled and sold by the Swiss-based company nationwide. This operation has persisted despite the fact that Nestlé’s permit to extract water from the park expired in 1988.
The Story of Stuff Project, Courage Campaign, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in a California federal court last October against the United States Federal Forest Service demanding it stop Nestlé from extracting water sold in its “premium” Arrowhead brand. The plaintiffs claim that that that the company has no right to water extraction under an expired permit and its operations are damaging the forest.
The suit follows an incriminating investigation by reporter Ian James for the Desert Sun. The article received widespread attention and initiated protests and petitions against the multinational company.
“The ecosystem in San Bernardino forest is being harmed,” claimed Eddie Kurtz, Executive Director of the Courage Campaign Institute. “It’s not an environment that can afford to send its water to Nestlé to profit off of.”
One of the groups suing has released a mini-documentary called “This Land is Our Land,” which focuses on the groundwater extraction by Nestlé in the San Bernardino National Forest and presents evidence suggesting the company is involved in criminal activity.
The suit has also raised many questions about the ethics of bottling water during a drought and the conflict of private profits from public land.
In San Bernardino, Nestlé is paying a mere $500 a year for the right to pipe out the natural spring water. The company made nearly $15 billion in profits last year and remains one of the leading bottled water companies in the world. In recent years, Nestlé has come under harsh criticism for exploiting water resources in poor communities. Its Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Latmathe, also came under fire for questioning whether or not water is a human right.
“Bottled water is not a contributing factor to the drought,” wrote Tim Brown, Chief Executive of Nestlé’s water Subsidiary, in an op-ed for the San Bernardino County Sun. Brown claims that Nestlé uses 705 million gallons of water in the state each year, which is “roughly equal to the annual average watering needs of two California golf courses.”
“If I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy a different brand of bottled water. We see this every day. In fact, if I could increase [bottling], I would,” Brown expanded in an interview with a California public radio station.
There have been no studies completed on the environmental impacts of water extraction despite Nestlé’s claim that no harm is done by its operation.
“They’re taking way too much water. That water’s hugely important … Without water, you don’t have wildlife, you don’t have vegetation,” Steve Loe, a biologist who retired from the Forest Service in 2007 told the Desert Sun. Loe also claims that the removal of water was responsible, in part, for the disappearance of at least one rare species of fish from the ecosystem.
Whatever the depth of Nestlé’s destruction in California, bottled water is an undeniable eco-disaster — 60 million plastic bottles are tossed into the trash every single day in the United States alone. What’s more, research shows that the bottled stuff is no healthier than tap water. So do your wallet and the planet a favor, and fill a reusable bottle at the sink instead of buying water at the store.