July 5, 2018 – In a controversial move blasted by environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service on June 27 issued a new permit to Nestlé Waters North America allowing the international company to keep withdrawing water from the San Bernardino National Forest for its water bottling pipeline, despite evidence that its operations are draining spring-fed Strawberry Creek.
Nestlé, the world’s largest water-bottling company, made $8.3 billion in profits from its water operations in 2016. The corporation has been a frequent target of protests, boycotts and lawsuits by human rights, indigenous and environmental organizations throughout the world for its environmentally unjust water bottling and privatization policies, as well as countless deaths of infants resulting from its aggressive marketing of infant formula in Third World nations.
“I am pleased to announce that I have signed the Decision Memo for the Nestlé Waters North America special use permit,” said District Ranger Joseph Rechsteiner in a statement. “Based on my evaluation of the project record (including public comments, specialist reports, and consultation with other agencies) I have decided to approve the continued occupancy and use of National Forest System lands for the extraction and transmission of water using existing improvements, subject to resource protection measures designed to ensure compliance with the San Bernardino National Forest Land Management Plan.”
Rechsteiner said the initial permit term will be three years, with the provision for annual permits for an additional two years. The maximum permit term covered by this decision is five years.
“In addition to approving the use of the existing improvements, Nestlé will be required to conduct hydrologic and riparian area studies and to modify operations under an Adaptive Management Plan if monitoring shows that water extraction is impacting surface water flow and riparian dependent resources on the National Forest,” noted Rechsteiner.
Rechsteiner said the decision concludes the planning process that began in March of 2016.
In a statement, Nestlé Waters North America said it will review the specifics of the decision.
“ Nestlé Waters North America appreciates the time and effort the U.S. Forest Servicededicated to this decision regarding the permit renewal process at Arrowhead Springs,” the corporation said. “We will carefully review the specifics of the decision, and will continue to comply with all permit requirements. Our cooperation throughout this process includes conducting and providing the USFS with 70 separate environmental studies and reports.”
After the decision was issued, the Center for Biological Diversity slammed the U.S. Forest Service for “failing to conduct a required environmental review” before issuing the permit that allows Nestlé to continue pumping millions of gallons a year from Strawberry Creek, in spite of evidence it may far exceed the company’s water rights.
The Center said the new permit contains “limited mitigation measures” for the creek, such as requiring minimum flows in two areas. “While the permit requires the company to monitor impacts more broadly, the triggers and actions are not defined and fail to ensure needed protections will be provided,” the group stated.
“This new permit will allow Nestlé to continue draining this fragile watershed without adequate environmental protections,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service downplayed information about the damage Nestlé’s bottled-water operation is already doing and failed to do a robust environmental analysis, as the law requires. The limited mitigation measures don’t appear adequate to prevent Nestlé from destroying plants and wildlife that have relied on Strawberry Creek for thousands of years.”
Belensky said the Forest Service acknowledged that it can limit how much water Nestlé can extract from the creek, but the two small minimum-flow requirements do not provide adequate water that wildlife and plants need to survive,
“The Forest Service decision also admitted that the State Water Resources Control Board evaluation of Nestlé’s water rights on Strawberry Creek is ongoing and that the initial report found that Nestle’s water rights are far less than the corporation claims,” she said.
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“The Forest Service can’t legally issue a new permit without first confirming the water rights,” noted Belenky. “It can’t gloss over its failure to comply with this critical requirement by relying on future studies. The harm to the ecosystem is occurring now, in real time, and must be stopped.”
In 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity, Courage Campaign Institute and the Story of Stuff Project filed a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service’s reliance on Nestlé’s long-expired permit. The new permit replaces that expired permit.
“Under the old permit, Nestlé siphoned off up to 162 million gallons of water a year from Strawberry Creek for its Arrowhead brand,” said Belensky. “U.S. Geological Survey reports from July 2017 show that, despite heavy winter precipitation across California, Strawberry Creek’s streamflow levels were the lowest since the agency began keeping track 96 years ago.”
The San Bernardino Forest is not the only place in California where activists have challenged the water bottling policies of Nestlé.
On Friday, March 20, 2015, environmental and human rights activists, holding plastic “torches” and “pitchforks,” formed human barricades at both entrances to the Nestlé Waters bottling plant in Sacramento at 5:00 a.m., effectively shutting down the company’s operations for the day.
Members of the “Crunch Nestlé Alliance” shouted out a number of chants, including ”We got to fight for our right to water,” “Nestlé, Stop It, Water Not For Profit,” and “¿Agua Para Quien? Para Nuestra Gente.”
Meanwhile, Nestlé continues to bottle big quantities of public water to sell back to the public at an enormous profit, leading to the increasing plastic pollution of our waters, oceans and environment.
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