California Drought Leads to Attack on Bottled Water Companies

California Drought
The California drought in the past year has led to bottled water companies operating their businesses in the state to come under attack. Nestle, among them, has been at the forefront of a petition by the Courage Campaign to shut down its operations. The Swiss food giant, it claims, is pumping water from the desert and lands designated for public use, bottling it, and selling it for profit. While the bottling company draws its water from municipal supplies, activists claim that citizens are bearing the brunt of the operation as they are continuously asked to curtail their own consumption of water due to its scarcity.

Eddie Kurtz, the executive director of Courage called the campaign a gateway and an opportunity to engage people in a dialogue about water. Jane Lagzin, Nestle Waters North America’s spokeswoman, responded by saying that she welcomed the dialogue. She stated that it was in her company’s own interest to make sure that they were following conservation standards, but also argued that shutting down Nestle’s plant will not address the issue of the California drought.

California consumes 13 trillion gallons of water each year. Nestle currently operates five bottled water plants in California, as well as four food factories, with a yearly consumption of around 1 billion gallons of water. This totals to about 0.008 of California’s total annal water use. Since this is a relatively small percentage, Lazgin considers Nestle’s consumption minuscule compared to other uses of the state’s water supplies. She states, for example, that while only 1.32 liters of water are required to produce a liter of bottled water, includes the water contained in the bottle, 870 liters of water are needed for the production of a liter of wine. Furthermore, according to the not-for-profit group Water Footprint Network, it takes 298 liters of water to produce a liter of beer, which includes the water needed to cultivate the barley.

With the California drought becoming an urgent concern, leading to attacks on bottled water companies, reporters have taken a more aggressive role in addressing the industry. In March, the Desert Sun, a Palm Springs based paper revealed that Nestle, whose permit had been expired since 1988, was pumping water out of the San Bernardino National Forests, possibly impacting the area’s ecosystem. Though over 4,500 expired permits, including 1,200 that involve water usage exist in the state, Nestle has been pushed to the top of the list of permits eligible for renewal, which is expected to take about 18 months to process. The reason for the backlog in renewal of permits is due to priority being given to government-funded economic stimulus projects. In the meantime, Nestle has been permitted to continue its operations as long as it keeps to an agreement to pay a fee of $524 annually for its operating with an  expired permit.

Though it appears that Nestle is keeping its operation monitored in order to make sure its production of bottle water does not contribute to the  California drought, water rights activists are still voicing concern about drawing in of profits. In addition to Nestle, other bottled water companies have come under scrutiny. Recently a new plant operated by Crystal Geyser Water Company had come under attack as it unveiled its plans to tap about 365,000 gallons of water a daily from ground water in Siskiyou County of Northern California. Like Nestle’s Lazgin, Judy Yee of Crystal Geyser stated that she is working with the local residents to ensure that her plant does not contribute to the California drought.

While Nestle and Crystal Geyser have been monitoring their operations to avoid a possible ban of bottled water in the face of the California drought, other bottled water companies are taking more decisive measures. Last month, Starbucks, who owns Ethos, a water brand, which advertises that they “fix the global water crisis”, came under attack and responded Friday that the company will be moving its entire water operation out of the state within six months due to the California drought.

By Bill Ades

NBC News
ABC Eyewitness News
Climate Progress
Photo by Philip Bouchard – Creativecommons Flickr License

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