Nestlé Waters is once again under intense public scrutiny after three environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Nestlé is illegally extracting water from a creek in the San Bernardino National Forest with a permit that expired in 1988. The lawsuit itself is leveled against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Nestlé to pipe the aforementioned water out of the national forest for several years.
This isn’t the first time Nestlé’s business practices have been scrutinized during California’s historic drought. As citizens in California drastically reduce water consumption and usage to combat the prolonged period of inadequate rainfall, Nestlé continues to bottle water in California parks and springs unabated. Nestlé bottled 705 million gallons of water from California alone last year under their Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water label.
CEO of Nestlé Waters Tim Brown responded to previous allegations of flagrant ecological violations with an op-ed in The Sun in which he ardently defended Nestlé Water’s policies. According to Brown the amount of water that Nestlé bottles in California each year is equivalent to “the annual average watering needs of two California golf courses.”
However, considering how much Nestlé is profiting in spite of (or perhaps because of) the drought, these claims and their business actions over the last couple of years can only be described as suspect. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit (The Center for Biological Diversity, the Story of Stuff Project, and the Courage Campaign institute) have actively put pressure on Nestlé and on the U.S. Forest Service by filing this most recent lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the case assert that Nestlé is withdrawing millions of gallons of freshwater from Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains, endangering wildlife and negatively impacting the environment. The failure of the U.S. Forest Service to take swift action and cease Nestlé’s operations in the area without a valid permit has forced the environmental groups to file the lawsuit.
The permit itself expired in 1988 and was granted to Nestlé Water’s predecessor company, Arrowhead Puritas Waters, Inc. The permit is one of a series of permits that are dated as far back as 1930. Nestlé Waters insists that its permit is legal. Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for the Nestlé brand, stated that while the U.S. Forest Service is reviewing the permit, Nestlé’s operations would continue “in full force and effect” until a decision has been made.
The lawsuit claims that the Forest Service has broken the law by allowing Nestlé to knowingly continue drawing water from the region without a valid permit. The insinuated reason is monetary gain for both the Forest Service and for Nestlé. The goal of these groups is to have the spigot and water supply turned off so that Nestlé cannot take more water from the national forest until an updated permit has been issued and reviewed.
While the bureaucratic process slowly begins, the ecosystem of the forest and surrounding areas will continue to experience a lessening of water. Regardless of legality, the moral question persists: Why would any company draw from local resources in a protected national forest during a record-breaking drought?
Be sure to do your part in protecting our valuable resources. Installing a whole house filter and relying on tap water as opposed to bottle water will help curb the business practices of big water at large. Carry refillable bottles with you throughout the day and avoid drinking bottled water unless absolutely necessary.