“Stealing” Water From Drought-Ridden California Desert? Thanks, Nestle.

Do You Drink Bottled Water Or Tap Water? Why? Photo Credit: The Sierra Club http://vault.sierraclub.org/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf

Do You Drink Bottled Water Or Tap Water? Why?
Photo Credit: The Sierra Club http://vault.sierraclub.org/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf

Companies are not people, they are more deserving than any people living in drought-stricken area–at least when it comes to the big H2O (water). Oh, sure there is a drought. Big deal. If Californians can tighten their belts around water consumption, they can just tighten them a little more, right? And so what if the big state considers placing a mandatory restriction on outdoor water use. Nestlé® has a company to run!

Do you see all of those cute bottles of Arrowhead and Pure Life brand water chilling near your local checkout stand? Nestle® “makes” them. And they can make them in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history. Why? Because it is no accident their water plant is set on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ Reservation, 20 miles east of Desert Hot Springs, making it exempt from water agencies’ regulation.

Not only that, all of the information they collect in the process of bottling water is off-limits: how much ground water collected, quality, like that. Other water bottling plants are subject to all sorts of rules and regulations and limits. But Nestle® has found a convenient way to extract water from the ground and export it anywhere it wants. They put it on an American Indian reservation.

When it comes to conservation, California is extremely use-conscious:

California’s urban water conservation efforts for the month of July resulted in a seven and one-half percent drop, statewide, in urban water usage from a year ago, according to results of a survey of retail water suppliers released today by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The percentage drop in urban water usage represents more than 17 billion gallons of water – the equivalent to 25,755 Olympic-sized swimming pools or enough water for 1.7 billion people each to take a 5-minute shower.

This month Governor Brown signed legislation that would improve “local management and monitoring of groundwater basins,”

We have to learn to manage wisely water, energy, land and our investments. That’s why this is important.

But there is only so much people can do in the name of conservation. Bioclimatologist and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York professor, Park Williams said,

“More area in the West has persistently been in drought during the past 15 years than in any other 15-year period since the 1150s and 1160s”… “When considering the West as a whole, we are currently in the midst of a historically relevant megadrought.”

But water shortfalls do more than cause droughts. Government scientists blame the “exceptionally hot, dry conditions and a lack of insulating snowpack for the mudslide,”

That a severe drought could cause flooding is the latest expression of a three-year dry spell that is afflicting California with increased wildfires, crop losses, water shortages and spikes in air pollution.

Peter Gleick wrote the book, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. He said,

“The reason this particular plant is of special concern is precisely because water is so scarce in the basin. If you had the same bottling plant in a water-rich area, then the amount of water bottled and diverted would be a small fraction of the total water available. But this is a desert ecosystem. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”

Nestle® trucks are hauling off ground water as fast as they can travel. And critics say “it’s impossible to know just how much of the limited resource.”

When the Desert Sun asked for a tour of the Morongo plant and data regarding well water levels, Nestlé® refused. But they did send an email.

 We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation. Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.

General Manager of the Desert Water Agency (DWA), David Luker, said that DWA thinks “the Morongo Tribe should have to report its water use just like other entitities,”

They’re entitled to use the groundwater basin, too. Everyone is. But it’s just a shame that this water is not being used locally. It’s being exported.

I don’t believe there’s any way to force them to fork over groundwater pumping information unless there’s discovery in a lawsuit.

Luker said the level of concern about the local bottling plant “doesn’t seem to have grown to a degree that leads to such action (lawsuit).”

Even the people who live next to the plant in a mobile home neighborhood are lesser beings than Nestle®. Their own water service is worse than average – it’s absolutely pitiful with “sputtering faucets and frequent breaks in water lines.” Those same lesser beings wish Nestle® would give them more jobs, because unemployment is so high.

We may believe that drinking bottled water is environmentally smart. So it is interesting to note that the process of bottling water uses multiple times more than the amount of water bottled that ends up in the bottle. Then there is the plastic issue.

This $12.2 billion industry not only “legally” steals water from a drought-ridden area, it is fundamentally wasteful. Arrowhead and Pure Life sounds as if it’s related to Native American Indians, that it is pure and it generates good health. But how much of that is true? We’ll never know. They do not have to show us their records.

We do know that exporting water from a drought-ridden area is absolutely sinful.

For additional reading, The Desert Sun has an in-depth report of controversy brewing around the company’s bottling plant.