From the quiet mountains of Maine to the hustle and bustle of Southern California, and all places in between, bottled water is being consumed at a higher volume than ever. And one company is benefiting the most — Nestlé.
The mega corporation is not only the world’s largest food company, its subsidiary, Nestlé Waters, owns and operates 67 bottled water brands globally, most notably Poland Spring, Nestlé Pure Life, Deer Park and Ice Mountain right here in the United States. But the H20 being used to fill those bottles comes from public land, springs, is being pumped from deserts and is even drawn directly from municipal water supplies. Nestlé continues to snatch up the element, and in turn sell it for profit to those who, Adam Scow, the director of the California environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, noted are in many respects the rightful owners of it in the first place — the public.
This vicious cycle continues even while the Golden State is in the midst of one of its most severe droughts on record. The drought has reached such concern that Gov. Jerry Brown recently passed a 25 percent mandatory water conservation regulation, meaning that individuals and communities as a whole must try and cut their water use by one-quarter until otherwise instructed. The drought, he said, comes largely due to state’s lowest snowpeak in its history.
“This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said. “I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”
Yet Nestlé, which operates five bottling facilities in California, continues to siphon water from public sources — across the U.S. and beyond. Nestlé Waters CEO Tim Brown, in a published letter in the San Bernardino County Sun, said there is no truth that Nestlé’s plants are contributing to the drought, and, with that frame of mind, bottling will not stop.
“I know some believe that drought conditions should bring the bottling of water to an end. Experts on water use who have studied the issue have recognized, however, that bottled water is not a contributing factor to the drought,” he stated, adding that the company “adheres to all a local, state and federal regulations regarding our operations, all of which are in good standing, including our permit to transmit water in the San Bernardino National Forest.”
As it turns out, Nestlé’s permit to do so in the forest has been expired since 1988. The permit, San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron told The Desert Sun, is under review and has been placed at the top of the pile for investigation. The review is expected to take up to 18 months in which Nestlé Waters will be allowed to carry on its operations while the examination is ongoing. That’s music to ears of the folks at Nestlé, whose leaders believe the permit should not even be considered expired.
“Like several hundred other special permit holders in the San Bernardino National Forest — and some 3,000 nationwide — whose permit is under review, our permit remains valid and, according to federal law, does not expire until the application has been finally determined by the agency,” Tim Brown noted.
The permit costs $524 annually — certainly small change for a conglomerate that profits about $4 million on every million liters of water. Previously published reports state that it cost Nestlé between $2.25 and $3.71 per million liters of H20. That breaks down to costing $0.00000371 per liter (on the high end). A single liter of bottled water, depending on where it’s bought, can go for $4. According to the food and beverage consulting firm Zenith International, 107 bottles of water are consumed per capita per year. Nestlé claims that the price of its bottled water reflects the investments necessary to ensure its convenience, safety and quality. Those investments primarily include the cost of bottling, storage and transportation from its source to the shelves of stores nationwide, all for a profit.
StopNestleWaters.org, a self-proclaimed gathering point for rural citizens fighting to preserve control of their water supplies and local economies from Nestlé, isn’t holding back on its displeasure with the company. The organization says that Nestlé reaps huge profits from the water they extract from rural communities and in turn leaves those communities to deal with damaged watersheds, an increase in pollution and a loss of their quiet rural lifestyle. It adds that the water conglomerate has a pattern of “bludgeoning small communities and opponents with lawsuits.”
The small town of Fryeburg, Maine, for example, has attempted to stand up to Nestlé and put a stop to it within the community. Nestlé has sued the town five times, tying it up in costly litigation, ultimately winning the right to keep its operations intact.
Nestlé, as one may expect, says its efforts are all to ensure that “healthy hydration” options are available.
It, and others like it (from Coca-Cola to Wal-Mart), have spent countless dollars advertising that bottled water is healthier than tap water. Reports and studies show, in most cases, that’s false. On the contrary, certain brands of water have been shown to have more contaminants than tap, primarily from chemicals contained in the plastic bottles. In other cases, according to the National Resources Defense Council, about 25 percent of bottled water is in fact tap water as it comes directly from a municipal water system.
Yet Nestlé’s pockets get fatter while the water supplies in which it uses continue to shrink and dry out. Time to stop it Nestlé. Its time to bottle our own water at home.
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