Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck and his views on the availability of water, and the price of it, have come under scrutiny on several occasions. Most recently because they have been pumping water out of desert mountain springs in the San Bernardino National Forest, which would normally flow to underground desert aquifers–in the middle of an unprecedented drought–when they haven’t had a permit to do so since 1988. Furthermore, Nestlé has been tasked with self-monitoring and self-reporting on its water use and the environmental impact of their pumping.
Additionally, with regard to laws and restrictions that apply to other people and companies, authorities seem to be looking the other way when it comes to Nestlé.
The Desert Sun reports:
- No state agency is tracking exactly how much water is used by all of the bottled water plants in California, or monitoring the effects on water supplies and ecosystems statewide. The California Department of Public Health regulates 108 bottled water plants in the state, collecting information on water quality and the sources tapped. But the agency says it does not require companies to report how much water they use.
- That information, when collected piecemeal by state or local agencies, often isn’t easily accessible to the public. In some cases, the amounts of water used are considered confidential and not publicly released.
- Even as Nestle Waters has been submitting required reports on its water use, the Forest Service has not been closely tracking the amounts of water leaving the San Bernardino National Forest and has not assessed the impacts on the environment.
- While the Forest Service has allowed Nestle to keep using an expired permit for nearly three decades, the agency has cracked down on other water users in the national forest. Several years ago, for instance, dozens of cabin owners were required to stop drawing water from a creek when their permits came up for renewal. Nestle has faced no such restrictions.
- Only this year, after a group of critics raised concerns in letters and after The Desert Sun inquired about the expired permit, did Forest Service officials announce plans to take up the issue and carry out an environmental analysis.
San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor, Jody Noiron, said that she was just recently made aware of this situation and that it has now “gone to the top of the pile.” That along with another Nestlé permit with the Cucamonga Valley Water District that expired in 1994.
It’s really a mystery how she could not be aware of it since there has been quite a lot of media coverage on Nestlé practices and attitudes about the availability and pricing of water for years. For example, Stephen Colbert touched on this back in 2013:
And it wasn’t just Comedy Central covering this in 2013, the same newspaper that revealed the current expirations, The Desert Sun, covered the depletion of the desert’s aquifers and the water situation in the Coachella Valley in general, in great detail.
The water supply in the Coachella Valley is so serious that they have been diverting water from the Colorado River to replenish aquifers. They also have been using treated sewage to water golf courses and parks. But that apparently is not enough, the Colorado River has been shrinking as a result and becoming a less reliable source to replenish the aquifers.
Back in 2013 Manny Rosas, a resident of Indio and a former water resources manager for Redwood City, California, told The Desert Sun:
We have a real problem because we are using more water than nature is able to replace. The board of directors, the city council, the leaders, need to overcome denial. Because nobody is going to ring the alarm bell and put a stop to the uncontrolled growth in the valley, unless they’re very courageous. It’s very difficult for people in government to sound the alarm bell, even though all the facts are there.
With all the coverage that the water supply, or lack thereof, has been receiving over the past several years, including the coverage specifically of Nestlé, it begs the question of how their permits and practices could ever be overlooked. And why are they self-reporting and self-monitoring? And why, when they stopped reporting in 2009 did the Forest Service not look into it?
This isn’t the first time that the Forest Service, under Jody Noiron’s supervision has come under scrutiny. Back in 2009 and 2010 she was heavily criticized by locals and fire prevention officials of the handling of the wildfires in The Angeles National Forest. Many called for her to be removed from her post.
Troy Kurth, a former fire prevention official told the LATimes at the time: “This is the most highly protected watershed anywhere, certainly in the United States. What were the factors that led to this fire’s escape?”
Bert Voorhees, whose home was destroyed in the fire, told La Canada Online:
I think it is interesting that the Forest Service’s story has changed yet again. Initially it was [that] there were no tankers available, and then there were no pilots available to fly them, and on and on and on. Now there is this new twist. Suddenly, the real problem area of the fire was so compromised with electric lines that the tankers wouldn’t have done any good.
Seems like Jody Noiron has shown a pattern of incompetence that cannot be ignored.
Southern California Public Radio, KPPC, interviewed Ian James, the reporter from the Desert Sun that exposed this story. When he asked Jody Noiron about the oversight, she said until this was brought to her attention that it “wasn’t a priority” for the Forest Service. When asked if there was any wrong-doing by Nestlé, he responded that it wasn’t known. You can hear the interview here.
If you are interested in signing the petition to stop Nestlé from bottling California’s water, you may do so by clicking here.