The Nestle Corporation continues to extract and export bottled water from California’s limited water resources despite the state’s short water supply and record drought. This is in order to suit consumer demand for the company’s “Pure Life” signature brand, along with its subsidiary Arrowhead. In Cabazon, California, local residents outside Arrowhead’s “100% Mountain Spring Water” sign have begun to question the legality of the exportation of the vast amount of local water, and the business there has since ignited heavy distrust among citizens throughout the state.
As California’s hazardous drought continues, many local residents around the area have questioned whether or not it is morally, economically or logistically right to allow the Swiss company to sell bottled water from this region for its own profit, while those living in the California desert area have been facing a severe lack of water resources. Currently, desert springs in this region have drastically declined in number, while the overall presence of aquifers in the area has also diminished to alarming lows as of this year’s record drought.
Located within the Morongo Band of Mission Indian’s reservation to the west of Palm Springs, the water production facility continues its water extraction in Millard Canyon, having begun the bottling operation over ten years ago. The local Morongo tribe has allowed Nestle to do business throughout the years, but has not been able to strike any sort of deal with the company in light of the current situation. The tribe has also tried to stop authorities from revoking their own license, which grants the sovereign nation a slice of the water rights in the region.
Both Nestle and the Morongo tribe have yet to give estimates to the number of bottles annually shipped, including the amount of water exported thus far in 2014. Because of their exempt status from reporting data on water extraction due to being a sovereign nation, it has been difficult to obtain information on how the local water supply has been affected by the bottling facility.
Before 2009, Nestle released yearly reports detailing the amount of water extracted from Millard Canyon. Since that time, water agencies in the area have only been able to estimate the amount of water taken from the spring. However, the Morongo tribe has been able to report some details, with one new report stating that around 200 million gallons had been pulled last year. This would have been enough water to serve about 400 homes in the desert.
Peter Gleick, a water researcher, was allowed entrance into Millard Canyon during the early stages of Arrowhead’s bottling operation several years back. He found that the plant was bigger than “seven football fields.” He stated that this pumping facility specifically could easily pose a threat to the local water supply, since water is already very scarce in the desert basin. Since the plant resides within a desert ecosystem, the amount of water extracted is at a higher percentage than if the same plant was instead located in an area rich with water.
Despite the fact that Nestle created over 250 jobs for members of the Morongo tribe, many residents have remained suspicious since the plant opened in the early 2000s, citing that bottling and exporting water is a “poor use” of the already low supply of water in the desert. With the record drought in recent times, the Cabazon Water District stated that the region’s groundwater could be better managed if Nestle and the Morongo tribe both released information as to how much water they use.
While Nestle continues to export water in Cabazon despite the record drought in California, the local water supply has continued to diminish. Aside from local residents, many citizens throughout all of California have shown their disdain with the Swiss company’s bottling operation. Nestle stated that the Cabazon plant was made to sustain the local water supply, but water researchers suggest that the percentage of water allowed to be extracted should be significantly lowered during the drought. According to other researchers, Nestle and its smaller company Arrowhead are both known to bleed communities dry of water before taking business elsewhere.
By Scott Gaudinier