As California battles a vicious drought well into its fourth year that has no end in sight, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered on April 1st that water agencies charge higher rates to the people in the state using the most water, aiming for a 25% reduction in all usage. Subsequently, Californians have reluctantly been cutting back on their usage, purchasing bottled water as an alternative but unaware of the fact that the bottling and selling of groundwater is contributing heavily to the state’s water crisis.
The Arrowhead and Pure Life brands of U.S. Nestlé Waters, part of the Swiss conglomerate, are sourced from the San Bernardino National Forest along with several other natural springs across California, which have been continually drained of their water even though their permits to do so expired in 1988. The bottles are then placed on shelves for Californians and others to buy, helping fuel a $12 billion industry and contributing heavily to the global garbage crisis, creating ten billion plastic bottles a year that choke up landfills and clog the oceans.
Currently, a groundwater management plan is being called for by recent legislation but doesn’t exist yet. Courage Campaign, an online activist organization in California, has received more than 135,000 signatures in a petition to stop Nestlé from bottling water during the drought. The group accuses Nestlé of “bottling from at least a dozen natural springs throughout California, including from some of the most drought-stricken areas of the state.” Federal officials have begun an investigation into the company and it’s twenty-some years of profiting off of public resources.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, environmentalists are furious over a proposal that would, for the first time ever, allow the state to actively facilitate the sale of public water for bottling. This would then allow for Nestlé to open its first bottled water facility in the Pacific Northwest. Alex P. Brown, of the Mt. Hood National Forest advocacy group BARK, and its partner Food and Water Watch say that Nestlé is guilty of damaging the environment, bullying small towns, and making a fortune off a public good. “Nestlé has a reputation for pushing the limits of communities, and this is exactly the same thing,” Brown said.
Nestlé is stirring up a lot of controversy these days, but the company is very familiar with this sort of conflict. The company owns more than 70 of the world’s bottled water brands, with it’s Pure Life brand breaking record sales world-wide. Pakistan is Nestlé’s test market for the Pure Life brand, and the consequences of unrestricted bottling operations are grimly visible. Outside the factory fence, groundwater levels have fallen drastically, and the village fountain water is muddy. In developing countries like Pakistan, where the public water supply is largely unregulated, collapsed or is close to failure, the company cleverly presents its bottled water as a safe and healthy alternative, while grossly overcharging rural people for the privilege. At the same time, companies like Nestlé sell sugary carbonated products much cheaper than water, contributing heavily to the global obesity epidemic.
Advocacy groups nation-wide are warning Oregonians to do their research and carefully consider the repercussions of allowing Nestlé their state’s water rights, and Californians need to come to terms with their water problems. Nestlé operates under the philosophies of “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Creating Shared Value”, but Oregonians need to ask themselves, “Is Nestlé really practicing what they’re preaching?” It’s pretty clear that they’re behaving just like any other multinational corporation that shares little or no allegiance to the environment from which it extracts its product and profits.