Apr. 13, 2017 04:27PM EST
The Ooho. Photo credit: Skipping Rocks Lab
A Target in the town of Bowen in Queensland, Australia has been accused of "price-gouging" customers by taking advantage of the area's clean water shortage in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
Environmentalists in New Zealand are increasingly angered that bottled water companies are extracting and exporting the country's pristine and finite freshwater sources for private profit—and paying very little for this privilege.
As the Guardian reported, Coca-Cola, "which has an annual revenue of over $60bn, last year paid NZ$40,000 to the local council for the right to extract up to 200 cubic meters of water a day" from Blue Spring in Putaruru, which is considered a national treasure.
By Daniel Ross
With much of North America still in the grips of a drought going back years, managing dwindling drinking water resources is a pressing topic. And in a year when bottled water sales in the U.S. are expected to exceed soda sales for the first time, Nestlé Waters—a water-for-profit poster child that dominates the bottled water industry, with multiple operations across the U.S. and Canada—is at the front lines of numerous battles being waged in local communities across North America.
Nestlé Waters is at the front lines of numerous battles being waged in local communities across North America.
In recent years, a number of Nestlé's plants have come under heightened scrutiny for all sorts of environmental and legal reasons, like the matter of where all the waste plastic ends up. Plastic bottles are one of the biggest sources of trash in national parks, and parks that have enacted bans have seen a significant reduction in their total waste stream. All the while, water companies like Nestlé have been currying political favors through donations to successfully push back against a wholesale federal ban on the sale of bottled water in national parks.
For Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit based in Tucson, the privatization of water resources is a cause for great concern, "especially the amount of profit in this bottled water phenomenon," she said. "They're basically just taking tap water, putting it into bottles and charging us a lot of money for it. Whereas really, it should be available for all humans to use."
According to some estimates, customers nationwide end up paying between 300 to 2,000 times more for bottled water than for tap water.
Here's a look at six places in the U.S. and Canada where Nestlé's bottled water plans are under fire.
1. Ontario, Canada
A nearly decade-long struggle by campaigners against Nestlé's bottled water operations in Ontario has reached a watershed, with the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change recently announcing a two-year moratorium on new water-taking permits, which includes the bottled water sector.
This means that—pending new permitting regulations—Nestlé can still operate under its expired permit in Aberfoyle and draw some 3.6 million liters of water per day from an aquifer that is soon expected to additionally support the nearby City of Guelph. Water levels in the aquifer are reported to have dropped in recent years.
Nestlé's water-taking permit is also up for renewal next year in Hillsburgh, where the company is allowed to draw about 1.1 million liters of water per day. Again, as a result of the moratorium, the company is unable to perform vital pump tests at a well recently acquired in Centre Wellington.
"These permits are located in highly water stressed areas," said Mike Nagy, chair of Wellington Water Watchers, an environmental nonprofit in Guelph. Nagy said that proposed regulations require water-taking permits to prove and factor-in a variety of considerations, including their benefit for future generations, their accumulative impacts, as well as the effects from population growth and climate change.
"Nestlé likes to argue that it only takes a small percentage from the watershed, but that's a smokescreen," said Nagy. "What they're actually doing is taking a lot of water from very small areas. In Aberfoyle, for example, they're very big users."
2. San Bernardino, California
While Nestlé's critics have made headway in Ontario, campaigners in Southern California have hit a wall. Last year, a Desert Sun investigation revealed how Nestlé had been drawing water from Strawberry Creek, in the San Bernardino Mountains, using a permit that had expired 28 years prior.
A group of environmental organizations subsequently filed a lawsuit arguing that the Forest Service had, for the duration of Nestlé's expired permit, illegally allowed Nestlé to pipe water from the creek for miles over National Forest land. Last year alone, Nestlé drew some 36 million gallons of water from Strawberry Creek, paying just $524 a year for the permit. But this past September, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Forest Service.
All the while, Strawberry Creek, a perennial waterway, has been running dry, said Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the Courage Campaign, a California-based progressive grassroots advocacy group. "It's way below what it needs to be to be healthy to sustain the environment and the flora and fauna, and it only continues to get worse," he said. "The rains we had last winter didn't impact this area at all, and so, it's not like things are on the upswing."
The legal wranglings are far from over, however. The State Water Resource Control Board, which operates under the authority of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is believed to be reviewing Nestlé's water rights to Strawberry Creek. The Forest Service is conducting an environmental review of Nestlé's new permit application. And Courage Campaign attorney Rachel Doughty said in an email to AlterNet that an appeal of the district court's decision is "anticipated."
3. Cascade Locks, Oregon
A ballot measure that could have opened the door for Nestlé to open a commercial bottling plant in Hood River County, Oregon, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters this past May. But the door is still left ajar.
The proposed plant would tap water from Oxbow Springs, in the town of Cascade Locks, the residents of which voted in favor of the project. It is the only precinct in the county to do so. Over the next few years, if a complicated transfer of water rights unfolds with Cascade Locks eventually claiming control of Oxbow Springs, then it's feasible that Nestlé could see its plans in Oregon come to fruition.
"If Nestlé gets in and gets water from Cascade Locks, then Nestlé has successfully compromised and corrupted the state," said Kathleen Fitzgerald of the Local Water Alliance, a group of Hood River County residents campaigning to protect the local water supply from bottled water companies.
Proponents of the project have said that the environmental impacts from the proposed plant at Oxbow Springs, in the Columbia River Gorge, will be offset by the some 50 jobs created in an area with high unemployment. Fitzgerald argues differently.
The plant has the potential to affect water levels in a nearby sanctuary, vital for migrating salmon seeking cool water, some of which remain there for months at a time, she said. "And the Columbia River is the second most endangered river in the U.S.," she added. "It's already compromised by dams and by [pollution] … Taking more water from it would only stress it even further."
4. Stanwood, Michigan
A near decade-long dispute between Nestlé and environmental campaigners was resolved in 2009 when the bottled water company agreed to nearly halve the amount of water it drew from a spring that fed the nearby Dead Stream and Thompson Lake watersheds, after it was determined that Nestlé's operations adversely impacted their ecologies and water levels.
A little over seven year later, however, the reverse is happening. Nestlé is attempting to more than double the permitted amount of water it can pump from another spring in a nearby county that local environmentalists say feeds bodies of water equally as threatened as those involved in the 2009 lawsuit.
"They're being impacted already," said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. "They're drawing down two cold-water streams. There's already no trout left in one of them—they were trout streams—and there are places where it's dry already."
Nestlé is looking to increase its permitted water drawing capacity from 150 gallons a minute to 400 gallons. Though last year, the company began drawing 250 gallons per minute from the well without any permit needing to be issued. It's all part of a $36 million dollar expansion of Nestlé's bottling plant in Stanwood, which is expected to create 20 new jobs.
"Nestlé's making a huge profit out of this water at the same time that there are people in Flint and Detroit who don't have water," said Case. "It's just criminal."
5. Sacramento, California
In March and December of last year, campaigners formed a human barricade around the entrances to Nestlé's bottled water plant in Sacramento, in an attempt to hold the plant hostage for the day. Their main complaint: Nestlé's permit to bottle some 80 million gallons of water a year in one of America's most drought-stricken regions.
Nestlé bought 52.9 million gallons from the capital's municipal water supply in 2015—less than one percent of total water demand within the city, argues Nestlé. The company also sourced approximately 32.4 million gallons in 2015 from five separate springs in the northern part of the state. On its website, Nestlé writes how it conducts regular monitoring of these springs, looking at things like recharge, water withdrawal and water levels. Robert Saunders of the Crunch Nestlé Alliance, an activist group that impaired operations at Nestlé's Sacramento bottling plant in in March 2015 and October 2014, disputes these claims.
He points to NASA data showing parts of the San Joaquin Valley sinking by nearly 2 inches every month due to the over-pumping of underground aquifers—as well as the reduction in water levels of Strawberry Creek—as proof that Nestlé's monitoring programs don't work. "People don't understand, aquifers don't come back," said Saunders, who himself was a link in last year's human barricades. "You drain them significantly, they don't recharge."
6. Phoenix, Arizona
Next spring will mark the unveiling of Nestlé's bottled water plant in Phoenix. According to Nestlé, the plant will buy (at the same rate as metered commercial water users) some 35 million gallons of water each year from the state capital—less than one percent of the city's total water usage. The company says the plant will also create between 40 and 50 new jobs.
Phoenix draws its water from four main sources, including Arizona's Salt and Verde rivers, as well as from a diversion in the Colorado River, which snakes down through Arizona from Lake Mead. Because of water levels in the lake reaching record lows and the ongoing drought parching the west, campaigners argue that even though the city has water reserves that can act as a cushion during dry periods, the city still needs to be vigilant with its water.
While Nestlé has made a lot of enemies in several North American communities, it's worth noting that the company isn't the only one that taps local water resources to support its business model. Sarah Porter is the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute. While she is a critic of the bottled water industry, she believes it's wrong to point the finger squarely at Nestlé.
"This is a manufacturing operation like many other manufacturing operations in the valley that use water," she said. "Some of these businesses will use a lot more water than the Nestlé bottled water plant will. Nobody is looking into that. Nobody's looking into the craft beer companies and all kinds of other water-using businesses."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
By Lauren McCauley
The state of Michigan has reportedly issued preliminary approval for bottled water behemoth Nestlé to nearly triple the amount of groundwater it will pump, to be bottled and sold at its Ice Mountain plant, which lies roughly 120 miles northwest of the beleaguered community of Flint.
"Nestlé Waters North America is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission to increase allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute at one of its production wells north of Evart," MLive reported on Monday.
"The issue is the privatization of a critical resource. How much is too much?" said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. Steven Depolo / Flickr
"The DEQ Water Resources Division conducted a site review and signed-off on the pumping increase in January, but the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance is approving the permit," the report continued. The agency is accepting public comment on the proposal until Thursday, Nov. 3.
While Nestlé and other bottled water companies have rankled many communities for privatizing their public water supply, the news particularly stung in Michigan, where citizens have faced a years-long nightmare over lead contamination in their drinking water. Many residents of Flint are still forced to rely on bottled water for cleaning, cooking and bathing as government delays have hampered efforts to replace the corroded pipes.
Meanwhile, the report notes that company representatives defended the need to expand the facility because "U.S. market for bottled water in general is driving the bid for more Michigan groundwater."
What's more, Nestlé, the biggest food company in the world, gets to pump that water at no cost. As MLive reports, "Michigan law allows any private property owner to withdraw from the aquifer under their property for free, subject only to a nominal $200 annual paperwork fee. The interstate Great Lakes compact prohibits water diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin, but a bottling exemption within the law allows water to be sold outside the region if it's shipped in bottles smaller than 5.7 gallons."
"The issue is the privatization of a critical resource. How much is too much?" said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, which for years fought against Nestlé's expansion in the state.
When contacted by MLive for comment, Ostahowski said he wasn't even aware of the new proposal. But as news spread on social media, the outrage was palpable:
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Nearly 20 percent of the water fountains in Chicago parks tested positive for excess levels of lead in the water and have been shut down by the Chicago Park District.
Of the 1,891 outdoor fountains in city parks, 445 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion. Another 14 of 544 indoor water fountains were contaminated as well. However, the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule refers primarily to municipal water systems, not single source supplies. The rule requires that action be taken if more than 10 percent of the taps tested exceed the 15 parts per billion standard.
Nestlé's grab of a Canadian community's water supply has sparked international outrage and calls to boycott the company and bottled water. More than 150,000 Facebook users are talking about the news on the social media site.
The Council of Canadians is calling on people to sign a declaration on its website to boycott bottled water and Nestlé.
Nestlé Waters Canada, a bottled water operation of the multinational food and drink giant, outbid the Township of Central Wellington in Ontario for water rights to a local well to ensure "future business growth."
The company is already permitted to pull up to 3.6 million liters (roughly 951,000 gallons) of water a day for its bottling operations in nearby Aberfoyle, but decided to swoop up the well near Elora, Ontario in order "to supplement our operations in Aberfoyle."
According to the Globe and Mail, the company bought the well from Middlebrook Water Company last month after having made a conditional offer in 2015.
The reason this issue has blown up is because the Township of Centre Wellington wanted to buy the spring water well for itself in order to safeguard the drinking water supply the growing community, mayor Kelly Linton explained to The Guardian.
The township has a population of about 30,000 but "by 2041, we'll be closer to 50,000 so protecting our water sources is critical to us," he said.
Not only that, much of the province of Ontario is experiencing record drought conditions, with rainfall 100 millimeters below normal in some areas from April to June, the National Post reported in July.
A drought intensity map released by Agriculture Canada on June 17, showing "moderate drought" across eastern Ontario.Agriculture Canada
According to The Guardian, when township authorities learned that Nestlé was trying to buy the well, they scrambled over the summer to come up with a counter-offer.
"We put in more money than they did and we removed all conditions," Linton said. The amount has not been specified.
But Nestlé, which had right of first refusal, was able to match the township's offer and won the well for itself.
"As you can appreciate we aren't going to be outbidding Nestlé," Linton said. "As a small town we're using taxpayer dollars, so we have to be good stewards of that."
Nestlé was reportedly unaware of the township's counter-offer until after the purchase was made. Since securing the well, the company said it has submitted an application to the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to conduct an aquifer pump test to determine if the water source meets the company's internal requirements "as well as ensure it can be operated in a sustainable manner." If the source at the Middlebrook well site meets Nestlé's requirements, the company will seek a permit that allows it to draw water at 300 gallons a minute, Nestlé said.
However, Wellington Water Watchers, a local volunteer group, plans to block the company's plans.
"We are fighting tooth and nail to not allow that pump test to go ahead," Mike Nagy of the group told The Guardian.
The Wellington Water Watchers pointed out in a Facebook post that Nestlé's latest move will vastly increase plastic pollution due to the wastefulness of bottled water.
"Think about the plastic we will stop being produced by saying NO to the Nestle permit renewals and the recent purchase of the Middlebrook Well. 6.4 million liters a day would translate into 12 million plastic packages per day! This is how much water they would have access to if they get the permit in Elora Centre Wellington as they already have 4.7 million liters day. Use the 4th R, REFUSE."
The Council of Canadians is also urging a national boycott of Nestlé. A media release for the boycott states:
"This summer, while many parts of southern Ontario faced drought conditions, Nestlé continued to pump more than 4 million litres of groundwater every day from an aquifer near Guelph. Nestlé pays less than $15 per day for this water, which it then ships out in hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bottles for sale all over North America."
"The water crisis is at our door here in Canada," Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said. "Groundwater resources are finite and are currently taxed by droughts, climate change and over-extraction. At this pace, we will not have enough for our future needs. Wasting our limited groundwater on frivolous and consumptive uses such as bottled water is a recipe for disaster. We must safeguard groundwater reserves for communities and future generations."
Additionally, as Barlow told the Canadian Press, the new Elora well is located near a First Nation's reserve, potentially putting their water supply at risk.
"[The well] sits on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River, 11,000 of whom do not have access to clean running water," Barlow said.
Nestlé's has been making many recent headlines over its bottling operations. Last week, EcoWatch reported that the Swiss conglomerate is now legally permitted to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California on a permit that expired back in 1988.
A federal judge ruled that the corporation can continue its use of a 4-mile pipeline that siphons thousands of gallons of public water a day from the Strawberry Creek watershed and sell it back to the public as bottled water. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.
In a major setback for environmental groups, a federal judge in California has tossed out allegations that the U.S. Forest Service allowed Nestlé's bottled water operation to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest on a permit that expired back in 1988.
A federal court has ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the Nestlé' to continue its use of a four-mile pipeline that siphons water from the San Bernardino National Forest.
The decision regards a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service in October 2015 by the Courage Campaign Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Story of Stuff Project. The groups alleged that the agency was allowing Nestlé Waters North America to pipe water from public lands on a permit that had long expired.
With the ruling, the multinational food and drink corporation can continue its use of a four-mile pipeline that siphons thousands of gallons of public water a day from the Strawberry Creek watershed and sell it back to the public as bottled water. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wrote in a Sept. 20 order that since the Forest Service received a request to renew the permit in May 1987, the effort was considered a "timely and sufficient application for renewal," thus keeping the original permit valid.
Bernal rejected the plaintiffs's argument that the Forest Service's failure to act on the May 1987 request renders the permit invalid.
"Plantiffs do not identify, and the court cannot find, any authority holding that an agency's failure to act within a reasonable time" invalidates a special use permit, Bernal wrote.
The decision was criticized by the three environmental groups that initiated the lawsuit.
"The court has just confirmed what many Americans fear, massive corporations play by a different set of rules than the rest of us," Eddie Kurtz, executive director of Courage Campaign Institute, said in reaction to yesterday's decision. "Nestlé has been pulling a fast one for nearly 30 years, taking a public resource, depriving plants and animals of life-sustaining water, and selling that water at an obscene profit without the right to do so, but apparently our justice system is OK with that."
"We're shocked by the court's decision to let Nestlé continue its operations, and we will continue to stand with hundreds of thousands of Californians and people across the nation to take back control of this public water," added Michael O'Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project. "This fight is far from over."
Let's not forget that California is experiencing its fifth year of an epic drought. The Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that in 2015 alone, Nestlé had piped away an estimated 36 million gallons of water from the forest to sell as bottled water. Nestlé pays an annual permitting fee of $524 for permission to run its pipeline.
"Reports from the end of 2015 and the summer of 2016 indicate that water levels at Strawberry Creek are at record lows, threatening local wildlife that are already dealing with the ongoing drought in Southern California," the Center for Biological Diversity said.
"The court's decision is disappointing, but the real tragedy lies in the fact that Strawberry Creek is drying up, dooming the plants, fish and animals that have relied on it for tens of thousands of years" said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Bottling water is not worth sacrificing Strawberry Creek, so we're considering our options for appeal."
Environmentalists have long decried bottled water as wasteful, expensive, unnecessary and a major source of plastic pollution.
Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, argued in November: "A four-year review of the bottled water industry in the U.S. and the safety standards that govern it, including independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water found that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. In fact tap water is tested more frequently than bottled water."
Nestlé Waters was not a party in the case but told EcoWatch in a prepared statement it was "pleased" with the ruling.
"The Forest Service has acknowledged that our permit is in full force and effect until the renewal process is concluded," Christopher Rieck, spokesman for Nestlé Waters North America Inc., said. "We look forward to working in close cooperation with them to continue to manage the Arrowhead Springs in Strawberry Canyon sustainably for the long-term."
The company added that it recognizes "the impact the drought is having across the state, and we have implemented new technologies in our California facilities that will conserve 55 million gallons of water each year."
Nestlé carefully monitors all spring sources and manages them to ensure long-term sustainability and healthy habitats, he said.