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Statement: Community says “No to Nestlé,” Victory Shows Power of the Grassroots

By Kristin Urquiza, Think Outside the Bottle Campaign Director http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2011/07/28-8

BOSTON – July 28 – After a year-long campaign, Friends of the Wacissa, Corporate Accountability International’s partners and campaign allies, are celebrating Nestlé’s abandonment of their plans to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day from the Wacissa River. The food and beverage giant announced yesterday that it is giving up its attempts to bottle and sell water from Wacissa and leaving town for good.

Nestlé’s pull-out is a clear indication that, from Florida to California, communities are standing up to the world’s largest food and beverage corporation, saying, ‘our water may be dollars and cents to Nestlé, but it is our lifeblood.’ Corporate Accountability International and our members will continue to work closely with communities across North America that are challenging Nestlé’s abuses and call on the corporation to stop threatening local control of water when siting and operating its bottled water plants.

The grassroots campaign started in June of 2010 when residents woke up to find that Nestlé Waters North America set up four test wells to assess the Wacissa River as a potential site to
pump water and truck it to Nestlé bottling plant in Madison County, Florida.

When Nestlé’s plans became public, the community organized to protect the lifeblood of their community, a pristine river which is fed by at least 13 natural spring sites and is beloved by local residents and outdoor enthusiasts. As Friends of the Wacissa board member, Georgia Ackerman summarized, “The more we learned about the negative impact of bottled water and the challenges to the health of Florida’s springs, the stronger our conviction to protect Wacissa springs grew.”

A coalition of supporters gathered petitions, sent letters, attended community meetings, and even came together to put up 400 yard signs with “Say No to Nestlé” displayed throughout the town. According to Jeff Granger, Wacissa resident, “the community really came together to protect our river.”

Friends of the Wacissa also joined a dozen other communities who have been negatively impacted by Nestlé’s bottling to call out the corporation’s “community siting framework” as a sham in a full page ad. The group’s board members also delivered the ad along with thousands of messages from Corporate Accountability International members and activists to the Deer Park facility in Madison County on the day of the corporation’s annual shareholders’ meeting earlier this year.

Community opposition came to a head when The Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that asks the Suwannee River Water Management Dis¬trict to deny any requests to pump water in the county and transport it elsewhere.

Over the last 15 years, Nestlé’s water grab in rural America has been ugly. Nestlé has struck backroom deals with public officials over community protests. Nestlé has engaged in lengthy legal battles with communities over water rights. And the corporation has run expensive “good neighbor” PR campaigns to win over communities, even as it failed to do basic environmental impact assessments.

This is a watershed moment in the effort to restore local control over water. In the summer of 2009, three other community groups – the McCloud Watershed Council, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources (POWWR) in Shapleigh, ME – secured major victories over Nestlé. Michigan Citizen’s court victory against Nestlé came after nine years of legal battles and Nestlé appeals.

These victories are harbingers of more to come. Still, across the country, Nestlé continues to subvert the right of communities to control their own water. There is more work ahead, but thanks to the powerful grassroots coalition in Wacissa, it is clear there is power in the grassroots.

Heartfelt congratulations are due to Friends of the Wacissa, Wacissa residents like Jeff Granger and his neighbors, and to all who extended a hand to support these dedicated activists in their time of need.

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