(CN) — Environmentalists who want Nestle to stop pumping tens of millions of gallons from a California creek, virtually for free, to sell it as bottled water, have sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for records on the multinational corporation.
California groups Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute sued the FDA in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, in a federal FOIA complaint. They say the agency failed to timely respond to their Freedom of Information Act request for the records, and did not indicate whether, or even if, it will deliver the records.
The Courage Campaign is calling for Nestle to stop bottling water from at least 12 natural California springs, to sell as Arrowhead and Pure Life bottled water.
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 former CEO Tim Brown was unapologetic about Nestle’s operations. He told Southern California public radio station KPCC in May 2015 that the company would take more 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.”
In the July 11 lawsuit, the groups say they want the FDA records before the California State Water Resources Control Board issues a report on disputed water rights in the San Bernardino National Forest. The public will have just 30 days to comment on the report after it is issued.
“The defendant’s violation of law has denied plaintiffs the information to which they are entitled, and plaintiffs and their members are injured by its inability to protect the San Bernardino National Forest, and by the deprivation of government documents to which they are entitled,” the 8-page lawsuit states.
They want the Swiss food and drink company to stop 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, California. Nestle said it took 32 million gallons of water from the creek in 2016.
In a statement, Nestle said: “We take our responsibility as a water steward in California seriously and have cooperated with the State Water Resources Control Board’s requests for documents and information.”
In October 2015, the two groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in California for letting Nestle renew a permit that expired nearly three decades ago.
But in September 2016, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled 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 was dwindling during the state’s devastating drought.
The International Bottled Water Association, a trade group, claims bottled water accounts for less than 0.01 percent of water use nationwide, and 0.02 percent of water in California each year.
“Despite the bottled water industry’s size, the amount of water used is relatively tiny compared to tap water volumes,” the trade group said.
The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.