Over recent years, Americans, particularly Californians, have accused Nestlé of greedily sucking the drought-stricken state dry with their monopoly over water resources.
The giant corporation, which extracted around 62.6 million gallons of water annually from the springs of San Bernardino, from 1947 to 2015, has been found guilty of doing so illegally. In late December, the State Water Resources Control Board notified Nestlé of the conclusion of a two-year investigation, informing the company that it doesn’t have the legal rights to withdraw the vast amounts of water for bottling.
The investigation concluded that approximately three-quarters of the water taken by Nestlé, known for its Arrowhead and Perrier brands, require permits the company has never held. This equates to billions of gallons of water stolen over six decades.
The investigation revealed that Nestlé only has the rights to take 8.5 million gallons yearly. A vast difference to the 62.6 million gallons the corporation has stolen each year.
The investigation was initiated in 2015 after the Desert Sun newspaper reported on the devastating environmental impact of Nestlé’s large-scale water diversion. The report claimed the corporation’s lack of water rights to siphon the spring waters from the rocky canyons was overlooked; in fact, Nestlé’s permit to transport water expired in 1988.
At the time of the newspaper’s report, Steve Loe, a retired biologist who worked for the forest service, claimed the canyons were at risk of drying up. “They’re taking way too much water,” Loe said. “When you take water from the springs that are the source of those waters, you dry up these canyons.”
The warning and investigation, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Although the water board claims that Nestlé is not able to satisfactorily clarify its basis for mass water diversion, it continues to operate.
According to the law, if an individual was accused of similar actions, a prison sentence would follow. Nestlé, on the other hand, has been told to simply apply for a new permit to conform to California water diversion regulations.
Arrests have not been made and it is uncertain if the company will face fines. The corporation, guilty of stealing water essential to the balance of wildlife in the San Bernardino National Forest, has received a 60-day time-frame to submit a compliance plan.
In a letter to the corporation, Nestlé was told to cut back on its water intake. The letter, Nestlé said, would have an impact on the company but to what extent, it is too early to tell. The corporation also confirmed that it was happy with the report validating its right to withdraw water from the springs, making no mention of their past discrepancies.
“We will continue to operate lawfully according to these existing rights and will comply fully with California law,” Nestlé confirmed in a statement.
Environmentalists, who have argued against Nestlé’s rights to syphon California’s ground water during a drought, say this is a big win for them. However, the track record of the state government’s relationship with the giant corporation leaves more to be desired.
In 1988, environmental and public interest groups filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service for allowing Nestlé to operate a pipeline in Strawberry Canyon on an expired permit. The courts subsequently ruled that Nestlé had the right to continue water extraction while a permit renewal was pending.
History is repeating itself. Nestlé has only been caged momentarily, until their latest permit is rubber stamped and approved.