In the midst of the devastating California drought, food and drink giant Nestle North America has been bottling and selling water from a national forest in Southern California, using a permit that expired more than 25 years ago, it has emerged.
Officials from the US Forest Service say they are looking into Nestle’s activities, after an investigation by the Desert Sun newspaper found that the company taps water from springs in Strawberry Canyon near San Bernadino, around 60 miles east of Los Angeles. A pipeline then takes the water across the national forest, to be transported by truck to a plant where it is bottled as Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water.
The company’s permit expired in 1988.
San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron told the Desert Sun: “Now that it has been brought to my attention that the Nestle permit has been expired for so long, on top of the drought… it has gone to the top of the pile in terms of a program of work for our folks to work on.”
Officials said the permit renewal process would take at least 18 months and include an assessment of the environmental impacts of Nestle’s activities. During that time, the Forest Service will continue to allow the water bottling, potentially under new “interim conditions”.
More than 135,000 people have already signed a petition started by environmental campaigners, criticising Nestle. “While California is facing record drought conditions, it is unconscionable that Nestle would continue to bottle the state's precious water, export it, and sell it for profit,” the petition reads.
Yet the company, which is the largest producer of bottled water in the US, said its total water consumption in California in 2014 was a little over 700 million gallons, about the same amount as it takes to water two golf courses. In a statement, the firm said: “While responsible management is expected and essential, bottled water is such a small user that to focus on our industry as a material concern in water policy debates is misguided.”
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