Groups Take Nestle’s Water Deal to Ninth Circuit

arrowhead-nestleLOS ANGELES (CN) — Environmental groups asked the Ninth Circuit to reverse a ruling that allows Nestle to continue pumping tens of millions of gallons of water from a stream during California’s historic drought, and sell it in bottles.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of appeal as it continues a fight to stop the Swiss-based food and drink company from diverting tens of thousands of gallons of water each day from Strawberry Creek, 70 miles east of Los Angeles.

Nestle uses a 4-mile pipeline at the creek for its bottling operations in Ontario, Calif. The environmental groups estimate that Nestle takes 36 million gallons of water from the creek each year.

“The Forest Service has been enabling Nestle to destroy the delicate ecosystems of Strawberry Creek for 28 years, and it has to stop,” said Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign Institute, a co-plaintiff.

“This appeal challenges a justice system that lets massive corporations play by a different set of rules than the rest of us. Taking a public resource and selling it at an obscene profit without the legal right to do so is unacceptable.”

Nestle is not a party to the lawsuit. The three groups, including the California Courage Campaign, sued the U.S. Forest Service for letting Nestle renew a permit the groups say expired nearly three decades ago.

Nestle spokesman Rieck said the company welcomes review by the Ninth’s Circuit.

“We continue to work cooperatively with the USFS (United States Forest Service) on the permit renewal process and to manage the Arrowhead Springs in Strawberry Canyon sustainably for the long-term,” Rieck wrote in an email.

“The USFS has acknowledged and the district court has held as a matter of law that that our permit is in full force and effect as they move forward with the permit renewal process.”

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled in September that Nestle had given proper written notice to renew its permit in 1988.

Critics of Nestle’s bottling operations say the Forest Service did not act on renewing the company’s permit for 28 years, and that the water supply in Strawberry Creek has been dwindling since at least summer 2015.

Californians have protested the bottling operations, appalled that a corporation is profiting from a scarce natural resource in a state where residents are forced to reduce their water use.

The Courage Campaign is calling for Nestle to stop bottling water from at least 12 natural California springs for its Arrowhead and Pure Life bottled water.

Nestle operates in some of the areas of the state hardest hit by the drought, the Courage Campaign says in a petition that has garnered nearly 140,000 signatures.

“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 states.

Nestle pays the federal government just $524 a year to divert water from the forest, the groups say. The water ends up on supermarket shelves as Arrowhead bottled spring water.

Nestle Waters North America’s Tim Brown was unrepentant. He told Southern California public radio station KPCC in May 2015 that the company would grab more diminishing groundwater from California if it could.

“The fact is, if I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water,” Brown said. “People need to hydrate. As the second-largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others are filling. It’s driven by consumer demand; it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate. Frankly, we’re very happy they are doing it in a healthier way.”

The International Bottled Water Association, a trade group, claims bottle water is just a drop in the ocean and accounts for less than 0.01 percent of nationwide use. Bottled water accounts for 0.02 percent of water use each year in California, the association says.

“Despite the bottled water industry’s size, the amount of water used is relatively tiny compared to tap water volumes,” the trade group says.