The U.S. Forest Service is the latest organization to be targeted by environmental groups demanding action related to the California drought. On Tuesday, the Courage Campaign Institute, Story of Stuff Project, and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Nestlé to illegally bottle water from San Bernardino National Forest.
The lawsuit challenges Nestlé’s four-mile pipeline that siphons water from San Bernardino National Forest’s Strawberry Creek to bottling operations in Ontario, California. Nestlé’s permit for bottling water from the forest expired 27 years ago. The groups want the pipeline shut down immediately and are calling for the Forest Service to implement a new permitting process that includes environmental reviews.
“We Californians have dramatically reduced our water use over the past year in the face of an historic drought, but Nestlé has refused to step up and do its part,” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project. “Until the impact of Nestlé’s operation is properly reviewed, the Forest Service must turn off the spigot.”
According to Mother Jones, a Desert Sun investigation from earlier this year found that Nestlé’s permit to use the pipeline in 1988 and the U.S. Forest Service announced an investigation. However, it seems that Nestlé has continued to siphon water from the creek in exchange for just $524 a year — “less than the average Californian’s water bill,” the plaintiffs note in their press release.
Nestlé USA’s CEO Tim Brown has been clear that he does not plan on stopping water bottling operations in California, going so far as to write that “bottled water is not a contributing factor to the drought.” The company is the second-largest bottler in the state with five bottling plants that use a total of 705 million gallons of water per year, or 1.9 million gallons per day. Brown claims this is comparable to the watering needs of two California golf courses.
“Nestlé’s actions aren’t just morally bankrupt, they are illegal. In the spring, we asked Nestlé to do the right thing, and they threw it back in our faces, telling Californians they’d take more of our water if they could,” said Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign Institute.
The Courage Campaign launched a petition against Nestlé earlier this year that attracted over 500,000 signatures, along with one against Walmart, which to date has received over 53,000 signatures. When faced with similar public pressure, Starbucks announced it would move its operations to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Nestlé has not been as responsive to drought-related issues despite its efforts in other areas of sustainability.
“California is in the middle of its worst drought in centuries, and the wildlife that rely on Strawberry Creek, including southwestern willow flycatchers and numerous amphibians, are seeing their precious water siphoned away every day,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s inexcusable for the Forest Service to allow this piping system to continue year after year without a permit or any review of how it’s affecting wildlife or local streams. The forest and the wildlife that live there deserve better.”