There is an interesting controversy brewing over the continued removal of water by Nestle from California’s water supply during the record drought in that state. Nestle continued to remove millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest to sell as part of its Arrowhead bottled water brand. While the rest of the state is facing stringent water reductions, Nestles has been criticized for removing 27 million gallons of water from 12 springs in Strawberry Canyon under a permit that expired in 1988. The expired permit’s fee for the water, according to critics? $524.
The expired permit only adds to the controversy over not just the removal of water by the waste associated with bottled water. The company head Tim Brown however said that this is like complaining about the weather: “If I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water. It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate.”
Starbucks recently stopped bottling water in the state. However, there are a 110 bottlers in the state. Critics charge that it amounts to theft will companies point out that it remains a small percentage of water use in the state.
Nestle has launched a counteroffensive to answer questions and critics. The company says that it has tried to renew its permit with the federal government and has been told it can continue to draw water. It notes that its product is still a lot better than those “sugary drinks.” It adds:
How much water do you withdraw in California?
Less than 0.008% of the total. Nearly 50 billion cubic metres (13 trillion gallons) of water is used in California each year. Nestlé uses less than 4 million cubic metres (1 billion gallons) in all its operations. We operate five bottled water plants (out of 108 in the state) and four food plants. Our bottled water plants use around 2.66 million cubic metres (705 million gallons) of water a year.
Two questions remain (1) why a company should make billions on public water without greater revenue sharing for the public and (2) whether such draws should continue during drought periods. It is also clear that the permitting system run by the US Forest Service (USFS) is in shambles. Either the USFS should cut off these draws or permit them under a workable and mutually beneficial system. It is bizarre to leave companies for decades operating off of expired permits.
What do you think?