There are myriad reasons why bottled water is problematic. Plastic containers are no good for the environment, the costs of bottled water continue to rise even though it is … water. Most importantly, the very existence of bottled water as a private business is only the result of our crumbling infrastructure and misuse of public resources. In recent years, the Nestlé company, and their egregious profiting off of public resources, has been in the news. Canadians have voiced their displeasure with the $14 per 1 million gallons of water the company reportedly pays to profit off of our northern neighbors’ drinking water. In California, Nestlé has been the focus of investigations over their over-pumping of San Bernardino National Forest water to produce their Arrowhead brand of bottled water.
At the end of April, California water officials took steps to stop Nestlé once again, drafting a cease-and-desist order that, if approved by the California Water Resources Control Board, will effectively stop their production. According to The Guardian, officials are using the very real drought that many parts of California are facing down as we go into the summer months. The cease-and-desist letter would greatly change the amount of water Nestlé (rebranded BlueTriton Brands earlier this year) is allowed to take out of California.
Nestlé makes a lot of money off of selling us all our own collective water supply. For decades they did so on an ancient permit that had expired in 1988. That permit, which was handed to them in 1978, was relatively archaic before the ink was wet, so you can imagine how disappointed environmentalists and others were when Federal Judge Jesus G. Bernal said that the National Forest Service could not stop Nestlé from continuing to bottle our water on a $524 a year permit.
This latest move by officials comes after revisions to previous investigations that show Nestlé has far overstepped the boundaries of what they were even permitted to pump out of federal land in the first place. Specifically, the letter sent to the California Water Board points to a 2017 investigation alleging that the bottling company has taken, on average, 25 times the amount of water they are allowed to take. An example of how far afield they have gone: “Last year the company drew out about 58 million gallons, far surpassing the 2.3 million gallons per year it could validly claim.”
According to Arstechnica, this last statement is an argument that Nestlé has been fighting for some time, based in their original contact language versus today’s expectations.
A key contract from 1909 said the Arrowhead source would supply a bottled-water company with seven train cars of water per week. Nestlé, which bought those rights, said that tank cars from that era could hold 15,000 gallons. But Amanda Frye, a local activist, thought something was amiss, so she did some digging. After sifting through archives, she found buried in legal documents evidence that the actual train cars used carried 6,500 gallons—less than half what Nestlé claimed.
If the state board is successful in their attempts to have this number held up as the contract, Nestlé will find itself in trouble. At the very least they would face up to a $1,000 a day fine, or a $10,000 a day fine if the area is declared a part of the drought.
There have been small victories, in towns like Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, where Nestlé pulled out after lawsuits were brought against Eldred Township Board of Supervisors that promised to expose the dirty dealings that went on with the bottling giant and zoning laws in the area.
These victories have been few and far between for the very same reason, as local and state officials have been intimately involved with the billion-dollar water business for a long time. And Nestlé Waters has the money to, like other anti-environmental businesses, pay their own sets of scientists to say and cast enough doubt, and file enough motions in courts around the land, to push the can down the road. And they can do this because profits far outweigh the money they spend lobbying and tangling up the courts.
Hopefully, this new move will, at the very least, force Nestlé to once again publicly expose their greed, and by doing so, bring about more positive organization and action against them.