In another attempt to shut down Nestlé’s bottled water operations in drought-stricken California, environmental groups have sued the US Forest Service, alleging the agency allowed Nestlé to pump millions of gallons of water out of southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest long after its permit expired.
The lawsuit, filed by The Story of Stuff Project, Courage Campaign and Center for Biological Diversity, says when Nestlé’s permit expired in 1988, the USFS should have terminated Nestlé’s operation.
A Nestlé spokesperson says the company is working with USFS to renew the permit and that it is not illegally taking water. The company says its permit is one of hundreds awaiting renewal and says the USFS has repeatedly informed Nestlé that it can lawfully continue its operations. “We will continue to abide by all relevant laws and regulations, be it federal, state or local as it relates to our operations,” says spokesperson Jane Lazgin.
USFS spokesperson John Haynes says while he cannot discuss the lawsuit, Nestlé is authorized to pump and transmit water across the national forest while its renewal application is processed. “By law, certain permits for which reissuance has been timely and sufficiently requested, do not expire and remain in full force and effect, until the application for reissuance of the permit has been finally determined by the US Forest Service. Nestlé’s permit fits this definition.”
In a blog post about the lawsuit, The Story of Stuff Project’s Stiv Wilson says the groups behind the lawsuit want Nestlé to pay for a “full and transparent geological and hydrological study to determine how their operation is affecting our land.” And in the meantime, they want Nestlé to immediately quit pumping water in San Bernardino National Forest.
“For Nestlé to continue to operate on public lands, it must be proven that the water they take is surplus to the needs of the forest,” Stiv Wilson writes. “But without a review, no one can determine, legally, if their operation is depleting the forest of water.”
Nestlé says it is investing in technology to help reduce water use in California at the five water bottling plants and four facilities where food or petcare products are manufactured. Planned investments this year in conservation measures to reduce the amount of water used in Nestlé Waters’ bottling plants in California are projected to save 55 million gallons of water a year, a reduction of nearly 8 percent compared to 2014 levels, the company says.
Nestlé is also working to implement the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) international standard in each of its nine California factories, within two years.