Battle of the Bottles–Starbucks vs. Nestle

California may be in the middle of a historic drought, but that hasn’t stopped the bottled water companies from pumping California water.  Until, maybe, now.

The non-profit Courage Campaign (couragecampaign.org) has collected more than 150,000 signatures for an online petition demanding that the California Water Resources Control Board immediately shut down the water bottling plants of Nestle, which produces such brands as Arrowhead and Pure Life.  The company has five bottling plants in the state.  All told, there are 108 bottling plants in California.

Nestle has countered that it has invested $7 million in water savings projects in California, including conservation programs at its water, milk, and ice cream plants.  Its bottled water plants and its four food factories consume about a billion gallons of water a year, which is less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the state’s annual water use.  That doesn’t seem like much–but, says Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute (an environmental think tank that focuses on water issues), “It doesn’t absolve bottlers of the overall negative consequences of the bottled water industry.”

Adding to the problem is that one of Nestle’s California plants is located on lands leased from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Cabazon.  While a tribe spokesman says that Morongo “strictly monitors the tribally owned wells used by the plant,” there is no statewide or federal agency which tracks exactly how much water is being used.

Another thing–Nestle’s permit to transport water across the San Bernardino National Forest for bottling expired in 1988.  While Nestle submits reports on its water usage to the Forest Service, no water agency knows how much groundwater the company has been using since 2009, the last year the company submitted annual reports to local water districts.

Anger and outrage can be good…it is getting some people involved.  And not just by signing an online petition.  In March, activists in South Sacramento blockaded all truck entrances to Nestle’s bottling plant there, the second such protest in the past year.  Nestle says that in 2014, it used 50 million gallons from the Sacramento Municipal Water Supply, and pays the same rate for water as other businesses.

Wal-Mart’s Great Value bottled water comes from DS Services of America, which buys its water from Sacramento as well.

We should not be bottling our limited water and shipping it out of this state.  At a minimum, we need to reform the bottled water rules and guidelines, and start enforcing transparent reporting.

Starbucks, meanwhile, announced last week that due to drought conditions, the company will no longer source or produce its Ethos Water in the state.  Instead, the operation will be moved to Pennsylvania.  California’s Placer County, the source of the spring water, declared a water shortage emergency last month.  I think Starbucks was beginning to feel the pressure.  Some critics don’t believe Starbucks deserves much credit, since they should not have been bottling in the first place, and the whole thing smacks of a PR move.  But I say, “Bravo, Starbucks!”

In other bottling news, Crystal Geyser Water Co. has announced a plan to pump out thousands of gallons a day from an aquifer that feeds the Sacramento River.  The company does not need a permit from the state, nor an environmental impact report, as California currently does not regulate ground water.  That lack of a solid ground water management plan is a serious oversight.  Combine that with an ancient water rights system, and the whole problem gets trickier.  And I think we are all aware of the negative environmental impact all those plastic bottles have made both during their manufacturing and in their disposal (or lack thereof).

Hurray to Starbucks and I only hope the others follow.  And you, dear reader–stop buying bottled water.  Tap water is almost always of better quality than bottled, and those reusable bottles are super cute!

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