LOS ANGELES (CN) — Despite California’s fifth year of drought, a federal judge said that Swiss conglomerate Nestle holds a valid permit to siphon thousands of gallons of water from a stream in the San Bernardino Forest for bottling.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal denied a bid by Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups to stop the multinational food and drink company from diverting tens of thousands of gallons of water each day from a four-mile stream at Strawberry Creek, 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
“The court concludes the [special use permit] is still valid,” Bernal wrote in a Sept. 20 order.
According to the groups, Nestle pays the federal government just $524 a year to divert water from the forest. The water ends up on supermarket shelves as Arrowhead bottled spring water.
Nestle was not a party to the lawsuit. The groups instead sued the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the company to operate using a permit that they said expired 28 years ago.
The groups argued that the Forest Service allows the multinational giant to bottle the water from Strawberry Creek in violation of environmental laws.
But Bernal sided with the government in an order released on Tuesday and a judgment filed Wednesday.
In the 12-page order, Bernal said that Nestle had given proper written notice to renew its permit in 1988. Those opposed to Nestle’s bottling operations say that the Forest Service had not taken any action on permit renewal for 28 years.
“Reports from the end of 2015 and the summer of 2016 indicate that water levels at Strawberry Creek are at record lows, threatening local wildlife that are already dealing with the ongoing drought in Southern California,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in response to the judge’s ruling.
Nestle’s operations drew protests from Californians angered that the company has been tapping water sources in the state while many residents had to cut water use.
Nestle Waters North America Tim Brown was unrepentant in the face of the company’s detractors. 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.”
Center for Biological Diversity’s senior scientist Ileene Anderson said the groups are weighing an appeal.
“The court’s decision is disappointing, but the real tragedy lies in the fact that Strawberry Creek is drying up, dooming the plants, fish and animals that have relied on it for tens of thousands of years,” Anderson said in a prepared statement.
The groups Story of Stuff Project, and Courage Campaign Institute joined the center’s lawsuit.
Nestle Waters spokesman Chris Rieck said he was pleased with the ruling and the company would continue the permit renewal process with the U.S. Forest Service.
Noting that the company employs 1,200 workers in the state to produce the Arrowhead brand, Rieck said that Arrowhead had bottled water in the creek for over a century. Nestle is mindful of drought conditions and is using technology to conserve water, he said.
“We take our responsibility as a water steward in California seriously and that is why we do not pump water from the Arrowhead Springs, but rather only source water that flows to the surface,” Rieck wrote in an emailed statement. “This ensures we only bottle what is naturally available. Across California and the West, we carefully monitor all of our spring sources and balance their function based on local conditions to make sure we do not overly rely on any single spring source.”
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