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By Miranda Fox
The impacts of the government shutdown on the nation's national parks have been widely reported: overflowing bathrooms, decimated habitat and widespread litter resulted in parks that remained open without staff oversight and management. In response, individuals, organizations and corporations have volunteered to help out with the clean-up. One of these is Nestlé Waters North America, which released this statement last week:
"At Nestlé Waters North America, we believe that even one bottle or can that is not recycled properly is one too many. When we heard about the need in our national parks, we wanted to help."
The U.S. Forest Service offered Nestlé a three-year permit on Wednesday to keep taking millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California, the Associated Press reported.
The offer has certain restrictions. Nestlé, which sells bottled water under the Arrowhead brand, can continue piping from the Strawberry Creek watershed "when there is water available consistent with the forest's Land Management Plan," according to the AP, citing the Forest Service offer. The watershed is currently rated as "impaired."
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To help solve this planetary crisis, Nestlé pledged Tuesday to make all its plastic packaging 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2025. The Swiss food giant envisions a world where "none of its packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter," it said.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has granted Nestlé Waters a permit to increase groundwater withdrawal from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute from its White Pine Springs well for the purpose of bottling drinking water.
The approval comes despite near universal opposition from residents, who cite the Swiss food and beverage giant's nominal $200-a-year fee to pump water from its wells. The fee will not change with the new permit.
Nestlé, the biggest food company in the world, announced Thursday it will only use eggs from cage-free hens for all its food products globally by 2025—a major step in the global cage-free movement, animal rights advocates said.
The company said the transition will happen in Europe and the U.S. by the end of 2020, with the rest of the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania to follow by 2025.
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.
- Tap Water vs. Bottled Water | Food & Water Watch ›
- Bottled Water Facts | Ban the Bottle ›
- The Story of Bottled Water - The Story of Stuff Project ›