Lawmakers introduce bill to block Trump rule limiting scope of federal water protections

May 14, 2020

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Rep. Grace Napolitano, of California, submitted a bill to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized in April.

The 1972 Clean Water Act made it illegal to discharge any pollutant into “waters of the United States,” unless a permit was obtained.

The exact definition of “waters of the United States” was contested in courts for decades.

The Obama administration attempted to clarify the rule by expanding the definition to include more water bodies that flow directly or indirectly, to navigable waters.

The Trump rule eliminated the 2015 rule and narrowed the definition to four types, leaving other waters under often more lenient state jurisdiction.

The bill’s authors said the Trump administration wrote the rule to benefit polluters at the expense of the health of people who depend on those waters.

“By removing critical protections at the behest of industry, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will make streams and waterways more vulnerable to pollution, which is devastating for the 117 million Americans who rely on these waterways for drinking water,” said DeFazio.

More than a dozen leading environmental organizations have backed the bill, including Earthjustice, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club.


Bottled water war: Washington, other states seek to curtail firms in tapping local groundwater

OLYMPIA — Washington state, land of sprawling rainforests and glacier-fed rivers, might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.

The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say bottling companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.

“I was literally beyond shocked,” said Washington state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill to ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater.

“I was jolted to the core to realize the depth and breadth and magnitude of how they have lawyered up in these small towns to take advantage of water rights,” the Democrat said. “The fact that we have incredibly loose, if virtually nonexistent, policy guidelines around this is shocking and a categorical failure.”

Elsewhere, lawmakers in Michigan and Maine also have filed bills to restrict the bottling of groundwater or tax the industry. Local ballot measures have passed in Oregon and Montana to restrict the industry, although the zoning change in Montana’s Flathead County remains tied up in court.

“The Washington state bill is groundbreaking,” said Mary Grant, a water policy specialist with the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “As water scarcity is becoming a deeper crisis, you want to protect your local water supply so it goes for local purposes. (Bottled water) is not an industry that needs to exist.”

Although much of the controversy around the bottled water industry has concerned “bottled at the source” spring water sites, nearly two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States comes from municipal tap water, according to Food & Water Watch. The Washington state legislation would not keep companies from buying and reselling tap water.

Americans consumed nearly 14 billion gallons of bottled water in 2018, while sales reached $19 billion — more than doubling the industry’s size in 2004. The bottled water industry is expected to grow to more than $24 billion in the next three years, according to Beverage Industry magazine.

Industry leaders have opposed sweeping legislation that would cut off resources, pointing out the potential hit to local employment and the importance of bottled water in disaster relief.

“This legislation would prevent any community from having these jobs or having a project in their area,” said Brad Boswell, executive director of the Washington Beverage Association, who testified against the bill. “We think these issues are best dealt with on a project-by-project basis.”

The International Bottled Water Association defended the track record of its members in an emailed statement. The bill in Washington and other legislation to limit the industry “are based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment,” wrote Jill Culora, the group’s vice president of communications.

“All IBWA members,” she wrote, “are good stewards of the environment. When a bottled water company decides to build a plant, it looks for a long-term, sustainable source of water and the ability to protect the land and environment around the source and bottling facility.”

Culora did not address specific examples of community claims that bottling companies have damaged their watersheds and aquifers.

When residents in Randle, Washington, learned of a proposed Crystal Geyser operation last year, some worried about a large industrial plant in their quiet, rural valley near Mount Rainier.

Many feared that the company’s plan to pump 400 gallons a minute from springs on the site would deplete the local aquifer and dry up their wells.

The worry turned to furor when a leaked email exposed the company’s plan to sue the nearby subdivision in response to neighbor opposition, then conduct an underground public relations campaign to gain support for the project.

“Pumping water out of the ground, putting it in plastic bottles and exporting it out of the state of Washington is not in the public interest,” said Craig Jasmer, a leader of the Lewis County Water Alliance, which organized to oppose the Randle plant and has pushed for the statewide ban.

Recent news increased the concerns: Last month, Crystal Geyser pleaded guilty to storing arsenic-contaminated wastewater at a California facility, and then illegally dumping the water into a sewer after being confronted by authorities. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2016, Crystal Geyser paid a timber company for access to a spring that had historically provided the water for the city of Weed, California, forcing the town to find a new water supply.

Local activists in California, Oregon, Michigan and Florida say they have been targeted by big bottlers that damage the environment and provide scant economic benefit.

Nestlé has drawn criticism for its bottling operation in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, which federal officials have concluded is “drying up” creeks.

″(The creeks) are visibly different where the water is extracted and where it’s not,” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project, a California-based group that makes films about environmental issues.

During California’s drought, he said, “Nestlé wasn’t being asked to curtail its water (in)take at the same time as Californians were being asked to significantly reduce the amount of water they were using.”

Just across the Columbia River from Washington, the residents of Hood River County passed a ballot measure in 2016 to ban commercial water bottling after Nestlé announced plans to build a plant that would extract more than 100 million gallons a year.

Aurora del Val, who helped lead the campaign for the ballot measure, said Nestlé first made inroads with local officials, promising jobs for an area that had seen its economy suffer with the decline of the timber industry.

“This seemed like the golden ticket to having a boomtown again,” she said. “But the more educated people became, the more opposition there was in the town.”

In an emailed statement, Nestlé noted its contributions to state economies — one study showed it provided 900 jobs and had an economic impact of $250 million in Florida in 2018. The company also defended its environmental record, without addressing specific claims that its operations are damaging watersheds.

“We have a proven track record of successful long-term management of water resources in states where we operate,” Nestlé Waters North America spokesman Adam Gaber wrote. “It would make absolutely NO sense for Nestle Waters to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies.”

One of Nestlé’s projects is in Osceola Township, Michigan, where local officials are fighting the company’s plan to nearly double the groundwater it extracts from the area.

Locals say that nearby trout streams have turned into mud flats since Nestlé’s arrival, and jobs did not materialize when it chose to build its bottling plant miles away.

“Streams are flooding all over Michigan, except for Twin and Chippewa creeks, which are not,” said Peggy Case, president of the group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The city aquifer is down 14 feet now, and it’s not recharging. There are people with wells in the area that are starting to run dry. They no longer are as happy with Nestlé as they used to be.”

Even if the company’s operations had no environmental effect, Case said her group would still object.

“They are privatizing water,” she said, “and we are opposed to that.”

In a state where the Flint water crisis is still fresh in people’s minds, water resources are a charged issue, said state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat. Rabhi is part of a group of lawmakers pushing a package of bills that would limit the bottled water industry.

Rabhi has filed a bill that would define water as a public trust, instead of a privately owned commodity. Another measure would prohibit shipping bottled water out of the Great Lakes watershed. A third bill would bolster the regulatory authority of the state Department of Natural Resources.

A representative for Absopure, a Michigan-based company that bottles spring water, did not respond to a request for comment. The Michigan Retailers Association said it was not taking a position on the bill, while the Michigan Soft Drink Association and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

In an emailed response, Nestlé said the Michigan bills unfairly “single out one industry, one type of water user, for such restrictions.” The company noted that water bottling accounts for less than 0.01 percent of water use in the state and said its Michigan operations employ 280 workers.

Opponents counter that the industry’s water use is wholly extractive, while other heavy users, such as agriculture, return much of the water they use to the watershed.

Carlyle’s bill in Washington has eight co-sponsors, all Democrats except for state Sen. John Braun, the Republican who represents the Randle community that battled Crystal Geyser. The bill moved through the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee. Backers are waiting to see whether it will be added to the Senate voting calendar.

Some lawmakers, however, have expressed misgivings about taking statewide action against a specific business.

This report is a product of Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.



Posted: Jan 23, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two U.S. Congressmen representing parts of southern Oregon were quick to sound off Thursday following an announcement from the Trump administration that it would move ahead with rollbacks on Obama-era clean water protections.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the change on Thursday. During the Obama administration, the agency expanded protections of the “waters of the United States” (commonly referred to as WOTUS) to include smaller waterways within the purview of the Clean Water Act — broadening regulations to cover streams, wetlands, small lakes and rivers across the U.S.

The Trump administration said that this interpretation bred “confusion.” According to Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River), it enabled the EPA to potentially regulate waterways as trivial as drain ditches — causing uncertainty for ranchers and farmers.

“For years, farmers and ranchers across Oregon have expressed their concerns to me about the heavy-handed Obama-era definition of WOTUS,” said Walden. “They stressed that their intermittent stream or irrigation ditch would be subject to the burden of overreaching federal regulation.”

Walden’s office said that he was an early critic of the 2015 Obama-era ruling.

In a statement on Thursday, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) strongly disagreed, claiming that the rule change would gut the Clean Water Act and end protections for waterways that millions of people rely on for clean drinking water.

“This is an extraordinarily dark day for the waters of the United States of America, for our environment, for those 117 million Americans who depend upon it for their drinking water, an infinite amount of wildlife impacted, from migratory species to fisheries and others,” said DeFazio. “I am going to do everything I can, within the jurisdiction of my committee and the Clean Water Act, to stop this heinous action.”

The EPA says that the new interpretation, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” delivers on President Trump’s promise to protect the nation’s navigable waters from pollution while promoting economic growth across the country with a clear, “common-sense” approach.

“The EPA’s new definition of WOTUS will both protect our environment and our rural communities,” Walden said. “Today’s announcement is welcome news for rural Oregon. I applaud President Trump and his administration for listening to the concerns of America’s farmers and ranchers and delivering on the promise to revise WOTUS.”

According to the EPA, the new rule only enforces environmental regulations on four main categories of water: territorial seas and navigable waters, tributaries, certain lakes or ponds, and wetlands near other jurisdictional waters. It rules out regulations on any water formed by rainfall or groundwater, as well as ditches, prior croplands, watering ponds, and waste treatment systems.

“This is a tragedy and it’s going to leave tens of millions of Americans unable to trust their taps,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “This rule would provide the lowest level of clean water protection since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 70s. It’s absolutely staggering to think that at this time, when we still have millions of Americans that are suffering from dirty water that they can’t drink, that is unsafe, that we would repeal this level of basic protection for all Americans.”

In a draft commentary published in October, the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board came out in opposition to the proposed rule change, saying that it was “in conflict with established science  . . . and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”


The fight to stop Nestlé from taking America’s water to sell in plastic bottles

The Guardian


The network of clear streams comprising California’s Strawberry Creek run down the side of a steep, rocky mountain in a national forest two hours east of Los Angeles. Last year Nestlé siphoned 45m gallons of pristine spring water from the creek and bottled it under the Arrowhead Water label.

Though it’s on federal land, the Swiss bottled water giant paid the US Forest Service and state practically nothing, and it profited handsomely: Nestlé Waters’ 2018 worldwide sales exceeded $7.8bn.

Conservationists say some creek beds in the area are now bone dry and once-gushing springs are reduced to mere trickles. The Forest Service recently determined Nestlé’s activities left Strawberry Creek “impaired” while “the current water extraction is drying up surface water resources”.

Meanwhile, the state is investigating whether Nestlé is illegally drawing from Strawberry Creek and in 2017 advised it to “immediately cease any unauthorized diversions”. Still, a year later, the Forest Service approved a new five-year permit that allows Nestlé to continue using federal land to extract water, a decision critics say defies common sense.

Strawberry Creek is emblematic of the intense, complex water fights playing out around the nation between Nestlé, grassroots opposition, and government officials. At stake is control of the nation’s freshwater supply and billions in profits as Nestlé bottles America’s water then sells it back in plastic bottles. Those in opposition, like author and nutritionist Amanda Frye, increasingly view Nestlé as a corporate villain motivated by “greed”.

“These are people who just want to make money, but they’ve already dried up the upper Strawberry Creek and they’ve done a lot of damage,” she said. “They’re a foreign corporation taking our natural resources, which makes it even worse.”

Critics characterize Nestlé as a “predatory” water company that targets struggling communities with sometimes exaggerated job promises while employing a variety of cheap strategies, like donating to local boy scouts, to win over small town officials who hold the keys to valuable springs.

Its spending on lobbying and campaign contributions at the federal and statelevels totals in the millions annually, the revolving door between the company and government perpetually turns, and it maintains cozy relationships with federal officials from the Forest Service to Trump administration.

Such tactics are partly what’s behind the Forest Service’s Strawberry Creek decision to allow Nestlé to pull water from federal land, said Michael O’Heaney, director of the Los Angeles-based environmental group Story of Stuff, which has sued to stop Nestlé.

Poland Spring bottled water is a ‘colossal fraud,’ lawsuit claims


MAINE – Nestle’s Poland Spring bottled water does come from Maine, but its state of origin isn’t the issue being raised in a class-action lawsuit against the company.

In what they call a “colossal fraud,” 11 plaintiffs in eight states argue the “100% Natural Spring Water” is actually “ordinary groundwater” drawn from wells “in low-lying populated areas near potential sources of contamination,” including a landfill and ash pile, per Courthouse News.

The FDA classifies spring water as “derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth.” But the lawsuit, seeking at least $5 million in damages, claims Nestle’s wells are unconnected to a natural spring, which “has never been proven to exist,” reports Consumerist.

If such a spring did exit, it certainly wouldn’t produce 1 billion gallons of Poland Spring water bottled each year, say the plaintiffs, who also accuse Nestle of faking springs “by causing well water to flow artificially through pipes or plastic tubes into wetlands.” Consumers “would not buy, or would not pay premium prices for, Poland Spring Water products” if they knew the truth, reads the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Connecticut.

According to its website, Poland Spring water is collected “before it emerges at the surface” as a spring. In a statement, Nestle adds “Poland Spring is 100% spring water” that meets FDA regulations.

The Press Herald notes Nestle agree to $8 million in consumer discounts plus charitable donations in order to settle a similar suit in 2003. (This man decided to sue Kellogg’s after realizing how much sugar is in its cereals.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Poland Spring Water Is ‘Colossal Fraud’: Suit



Maine student rejects scholarship from bottled water company

Despite needing to pay a hefty tuition bill this fall, Hannah Rousey refused to take money from Poland Spring Bottling Co., a subsidiary of Nestlé.

Last month, 17-year-old Hannah Rousey graduated from high school. She was awarded a $1,000 ‘Good Science’ college scholarship, one of three recipients nominated by teachers at the Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine. Rousey, however, is making headlines for her refusal to accept. The money comes from the Poland Spring Bottling Company, a subsidiary of Nestlé, that bottles spring water in Maine and sells it across the northeastern United States.

Rousey is strongly opposed to bottled water. She is also planning to study sustainable agriculture and environmental protection law and policy at Sterling College in Vermont, starting this fall. The source of the scholarship, therefore, did not fit with her personal convictions, and so she wrote a letter to the Poland Springs Bottling Company on June 2, part of which was published in the Conway Daily Sun:

“I am grateful for the scholarship I have been awarded, but I cannot in good faith accept money from a company that does not exhibit sustainable and ethical practices… For me to accept your scholarship would be hypocritical.

“On average, Poland Spring is now allowed to take up to 603,000 gallons of water per day from Fryeburg’s aquifer. Poland Spring also taps water sources in Poland, Hollis, Pierce Pond Township, Dallas Plantation, Kingfield and Denmark. This water is then trucked to the largest bottling facility in the world, located in Hollis, Maine. They offer monies to our towns, schools and organizations to distract us from the fact that they robbing us of our water.”

The term for this is ‘bluewashing’, when a business, organization, or corporation touts its commitment to social responsibility and humanitarian efforts, and then uses this perception to improve public relations and make economic gains.

Rousey refuses to be bought out. She told the Bridgton News that she was taught to carry a reusable water bottle as a child, not to buy it at a store. She was always made aware of the fight for water rights in her home region and of the terrible environmental impact of single-use plastic bottles. Recently she was involved in the screening of a documentary called Bottled Life at a local library. She told the newspaper:

“Standing up for one’s beliefs and convictions isn’t something that is done only when convenient. It’s important to lead by action, when push comes to shove doing what is right isn’t always what is easy. Accepting money from Poland Springs would go against everything I am going to school for, therefore, I politely declined their offer.”

The other scholarship recipients clearly did not share Rousey’s feelings. The Conway Daily Sun quotes one student as saying “he doesn’t have a strong enough negative opinion against Nestle to turn down the scholarship” and that it’s very helpful for upcoming school costs.

A GoFundMe page was created on Monday on Rousey’s behalf and so far has raised $1,210, which means this determined young activist has already made a profit while standing up for her beliefs. Way to go, Hannah!


Fryeburg (Maine) water trustees concerned about wells (Poland Spring is a Nestle contract)

By Daymond Steer

FRYEBURG, Maine — Fryeburg Water District Trustees, concerned about the lack of rain this summer, are asking constituents to fill out an online survey about how their wells are performing and also about their satisfaction with the local water company. Meanwhile, the operator of the town’s water works is asking residents to be conservative with their water use.

The trustees form a quasi-municipal board created in the event that stockholders of the private Fryeburg Water Co. want to sell.

Recently, Fryeburg Water Co.’s board decided to contract day-to-day operations to the Maine Water Co.

In the online survey on Fryeburg Water’s website, it asks for a variety of information, including type of well, the depth, when it was drilled and whether there were any problems with the well.

The survey is anonymous but leaves respondents the option of leaving their contact information.

“Water flows through the bedrock beneath us in ways that is difficult to fully understand or track,” states

“In order to better understand this source and the connections we share, we invite you to report on your source quality and quantity whether you are within the district or part of a neighboring community.”

Maine Water put out a press release Aug. 9 advising residents to use water wisely as there has been a less rainfall than usual this year.

“While there are no immediate concerns with any of Maine Water’s sources across the state in meeting customer demands, the company is reminding customers that careful water use is always prudent to protect valuable natural water resources and ensure their long-term sustainability,” states Maine Water. “Wise water use also helps to avoid the considerable expense of developing new water supply sources, and ensures adequate supplies in storage for fire protection and other system demands.”

Maine Water Vice President Rick Knowlton said recently that the Aug. 9 guidance still applies. He said on average Maine would get 45 to 48 inches of rain per year with between 25 and 30 inches falling between January and June. He said rainfalls vary depending on location — in some areas of southern Maine rainfall has been up to 5 inches below normal, while the numbers get closer to average as one goes north. He said rainfall has been low since May.

During their meeting last week, independent state representative candidate Walter Riseman, who if elected would represent Harrison, Bridgton and Denmark, said that he wants to learn more about pumping activities of Maine water.

Riseman said some people in Denmark are concerned their wells are running dry due to pumping from companies like Poland Spring and that their cranberry bogs are drying up.

Riseman said he is seeking statistical data about water being pumped from Denmark, saying, “There needs to be a baseline of data collection, and that’s how you make some progress.”

Poland Spring has an East Fryeburg pumping station that draws from a water source that also feeds Denmark. Poland Spring has long maintained that its pumping activities are sustainable and would not affect residential water users.

Greg Huang-Dale, chairman of the board of trustees, said trustees have another survey on their website asking Fryeburg Water Co. customers about their satisfaction with the company.

He also said people have complained about Maine’s “absolute dominion” law that controls water extraction. Riseman believes water is a public resource that should be owned by the people.

Trustee Nels Liljedahl said absolute dominion means that a landowner owns the water under his or her land and can extract it. This can affect people who live downstream.

Trustees said Maine is one of three states, including Indiana and Texas, that practice absolute dominion. “It’s not fair at all,” said Liljedahl.


Nestle Gains Control of Town’s Water for Next Half Century

Saturday, May 14, 2016

and activists in a small U.S. town fear the consequences of corporate control of their public water.

The Republican Governor of Maine has just set a dangerous precedent by helping corporation Nestle secure a contract that gives its subsidiary permission to take the town of Fryeburg’s groundwater for at least 25 years for their own profit, in a deal that could potentially stretch to 45 years, US Uncut report.

This will be the first time in United States history that a contract ties up local water resources for such a long time. Activists worry this is just the beginning of corporations attempting to take water from rural towns.

The deal was upheld by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, which means activists have pretty much been defeated in trying to curtail the deal.

According to Nickie Sekera, the co-founder of Community Water Justice, the town’s water supplier was able to keep Fryeburg’s government largely out of the negotiations with Nestle.

“Our local municipal water supplier for Fryeburg, Maine, is run by a private company,” Sekera said in an interview with U.S. Uncut. “So it’s not run by a municipality… [so] they can engage in contracts with corporations such as Nestle much easier.”

Sekera said the residents of the town are “worn out” after such a long battle against the company.

“It’s very difficult to speak out publicly because it sometimes costs people their jobs,” she said. “Their ability to be employed with any connection to the town… because people in power who stand to benefit from this deal have ways of working things.”

In the following weeks, Nestle also plans to secure water sources in the cities of Oxbow Springs, Oregon, and Eldritch, Pennsylvania.


Nestle Continues Stealing World’s Water During Drought

The city of Sacramento is in the fourth year of a record drought – yet the Nestlé Corporation continues to bottle city water to sell back to the public at a big profit, local activists charge.

The Nestlé Water Bottling Plant in Sacramento is the target of a major press conference on Tuesday, March 17, by a water coalition that claims the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during the drought.

The coalition, the crunchnestle alliance, says that City Hall has made this use of the water supply possible through a “corporate welfare giveaway,” according to a press advisory.

A coalition of environmentalists, Native Americans and other concerned people announced the press conference will take place at March 17 at 5 p.m. at new Sacramento City Hall, 915 I Street, Sacramento.

The coalition will release details of a protest on Friday, March 20, at the South Sacramento Nestlé plant designed to “shut down” the facility. The coalition is calling on Nestlé to pay rates commensurate with their enormous profit, or voluntarily close down.

“The coalition is protesting Nestlé’s virtually unlimited use of water – up to 80 million gallons a year drawn from local aquifers – while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them,” according to the coalition.

“Nestlé pays only 65 cents for each 470 gallons it pumps out of the ground – the same rate as an average residential water user. But the company can turn the area’s water around, and sell it back to Sacramento at mammoth profits,” the coalition said.

Activists say that Sacramento officials have refused attempts to obtain details of Nestlé’s water used. Coalition members have addressed the Sacramento City Council and requested that Nestle’ either pay a commercial rate under a two tier level, or pay a tax on their profit.

In October, the coalition released a “White Paper” highlighting predatory water profiteering actions taken by Nestle’ Water Bottling Company in various cities, counties, states and countries. Most of those great “deals” yielded mega profits for Nestle’ at the expense of citizens and taxpayers. Additionally, the environmental impact on many of those areas yielded disastrous results.

Coalition spokesperson Andy Conn said, “This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation. For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.”

For more information about the crunchnestle alliance, contact Andy Conn (530) 906-8077 camphgr55 (at) or Bob Saunders (916) 370-8251

Nestlé is currently the leading supplier of the world’s bottled water, including such brands as Perrier and San Pellegrino, and has been criticized by activists for human rights violations throughout the world. For example, Food and Water Watch and other organizations blasted Nestlé’s “Human Rights Impact Assessment” in December 2013 as a “public relations stunt.”

“The failure to examine Nestlé’s track record on the human right to water is not surprising given recent statements by its chair Peter Brabeck challenging the human right to water,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She noted that the company famously declared at the 2000 World Water Forum in the Netherlands that water should be defined as a need—not as a human right.

“In November 2013, Colombian trade unionist Oscar Lopez Trivino became the fifteenth Nestlé worker to be assassinated by a paramilitary organization while many of his fellow workers were in the midst of a hunger strike protesting the corporation’s refusal to hear their grievances,” according to the groups.

The press conference and protest will take place just days after Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, revealed in an op-ed in the LA Times on March 12 that California has only one year of water supply left in its reservoirs.

“As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown continues to fast-track his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels to ship Sacramento River water to corporate agribusiness, Southern California water agencies, and oil companies conducting fracking operations. The $67 billion plan won’t create one single drop of new water, but it will take vast tracts of Delta farm land out of production under the guise of “habitat restoration” in order to irrigate drainage-impaired soil owned by corporate mega-growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The tunnel plan will also hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Klamath and Trinity rivers. The peripheral tunnels will be good for agribusiness, water privateers, oil companies and the 1 percent, but will be bad for the fish, wildlife, people and environment of California and the public trust.

The Delta smelt may already be extinct in the wild!

In fact, the endangered Delta smelt, once the most abundant fish in the entire Bay Delta Estuary, may already be extinct, according to UC Davis fish biologist and author Peter Moyle, as quoted on Capital Public Radio.

“Prepare for the extinction of the Delta Smelt in the wild,” Moyle told a group of scientists with the Delta Stewardship Council. 

According to Capital Public Radio:

“He says the latest state trawl survey found very few fish in areas of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where smelt normally gather.

‘That trawl survey came up with just six smelt, four females and two males,’ says Moyle. “Normally because they can target smelt, they would have gotten several hundred.’

Moyle says the population of Delta smelt has been declining for the last 30 years but the drought may have pushed the species to the point of no return. If the smelt is officially declared extinct, which could take several years, the declaration could change how water is managed in California.

‘All these biological opinions on Delta smelt that have restricted some of the pumping will have to be changed,’ says Moyle.

But Moyle says pumping water from the Delta to Central and Southern California could still be restricted at certain times because of all the other threatened fish populations.”

The Delta smelt, an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, reached a new record low population level in 2014, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fall midwater trawl survey that was released in January.

Department staff found a total of only eight smelt at a total of 100 sites sampled each month from September through December

The smelt is considered an indicator species because the 2.0 to 2.8 inch long fish is endemic to the estuary and spends all of its life in the Delta.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has conducted the Fall Midwater Trawl Survey (FMWT) to index the fall abundance of pelagic (open water) fish, including Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad, nearly annually since 1967. The index of each species is a number that indicates a relative population abundance.


Bottling water without scrutiny

Miles from the nearest paved road in the San Bernardino National Forest, two sounds fill a rocky canyon: a babbling stream and the hissing of water flowing through a stainless steel pipe.

From wells that tap into springs high on the mountainside, water gushes down through the pipe to a roadside tank. From there, it is transferred to tanker trucks, hauled to a bottling plant and sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.

Nestle Waters North America holds a longstanding right to use this water from the national forest near San Bernardino. But the U.S. Forest Service hasn’t been keeping an eye on whether the taking of water is harming Strawberry Creek and the wildlife that depends on it. In fact, Nestle’s permit to transport water across the national forest expired in 1988. It hasn’t been reviewed since, and the Forest Service hasn’t examined the ecological effects of drawing tens of millions of gallons each year from the springs.

Even with California deep in drought, the federal agency hasn’t assessed the impacts of the bottled water business on springs and streams in two watersheds that sustain sensitive habitats in the national forest. The lack of oversight is symptomatic of a Forest Service limited by tight budgets and focused on other issues, and of a regulatory system in California that allows the bottled water industry to operate with little independent tracking of the potential toll on the environment.

In an investigation of the industry’s water footprint in the San Bernardino National Forest and other parts of California, The Desert Sun found that:

No state agency is tracking exactly how much water is used by all of the bottled water plants in California, or monitoring the effects on water supplies and ecosystems statewide. The California Department of Public Health regulates 108 bottled water plants in the state, collecting information on water quality and the sources tapped. But the agency says it does not require companies to report how much water they use.
That information, when collected piecemeal by state or local agencies, often isn’t easily accessible to the public. In some cases, the amounts of water used are considered confidential and not publicly released.
Even as Nestle Waters has been submitting required reports on its water use, the Forest Service has not been closely tracking the amounts of water leaving the San Bernardino National Forest and has not assessed the impacts on the environment.
While the Forest Service has allowed Nestle to keep using an expired permit for nearly three decades, the agency has cracked down on other water users in the national forest. Several years ago, for instance, dozens of cabin owners were required to stop drawing water from a creek when their permits came up for renewal. Nestle has faced no such restrictions.
Only this year, after a group of critics raised concerns in letters and after The Desert Sun inquired about the expired permit, did Forest Service officials announce plans to take up the issue and carry out an environmental analysis.

A growing debate over Nestle’s use of water from the San Bernardino National Forest parallels other arguments in places from the San Gorgonio Pass to Mount Shasta. And those debates have turned more contentious as a fourth year of drought weighs on California’s depleted water supplies.

Statewide, the bottled water industry accounts for a small fraction of overall water use. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that roughly 1 percent of the water used in the state goes to industrial users, with bottling plants being a small portion of that. Pumping from wells can pull down groundwater levels, and drawing water from springs can reduce the amounts flowing in streams.

Bottled water companies in California are typically subject to environmental reviews only when a permit for a new project triggers a formal study. Otherwise, the impacts of bottling plants on creeks and aquifers often aren’t scrutinized by government agencies.

In the San Bernardino National Forest, Nestle insists its bottling of spring water isn’t causing any harm. Water from Arrowhead Springs has been tapped and sold for more than a century. The company says it is complying with all the requirements of its expired permit in the national forest and has been informed by the Forest Service that it can keep operating lawfully until a new permit is eventually issued. The company also says that at all of the springs where it draws water, it monitors the environment and manages its water use to ensure “long-term sustainability.”
A water pipeline runs alongside Strawberry Creek in

A water pipeline runs alongside Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest. The pipe carries water from Arrowhead Springs to be bottled by Nestle.
(Photo: Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun)

The Forest Service and Nestle have had a cooperative relationship over the years. In 2003, the Old Fire swept through the area and destroyed portions of Nestle’s pipeline. A month later, deadly floods and mudslides thundered down from the mountains. As Nestle workers rebuilt the pipeline on the mountainside, Forest Service officials oversaw the work. But the agency didn’t require a new permit at the time, and in the years since hasn’t examined whether draining away spring water poses problems for the creek and the forest.

Two former Forest Service employees interviewed by The Desert Sun say they think it’s wrong that the agency for decades hasn’t studied the impacts on the national forest. During the drought, they say, there is now an urgent need to protect the water sources on public lands and reexamine Nestle’s bottling operation.

“They’re taking way too much water. That water’s hugely important,” said Steve Loe, a biologist who retired from the Forest Service in 2007. “Without water, you don’t have wildlife, you don’t have vegetation.”

Standing on a roadside several miles from the springs, Loe motioned to the peaks in the distance, and to the steep mountainside where a natural rock formation shaped like an arrowhead marks the location of Arrowhead Springs. Beneath that arrowhead, hot springs bubble from the ground at a long-closed hotel that once attracted celebrities in the 1940s. In nearby Strawberry Canyon, cold springs gush from the mountain and into the pipes for bottling.

“When you take water from the springs that are the source of those waters, you dry up these canyons,” Loe said. “And they’re the most important habitats that we have.”

An avid hiker and outdoorsman, Loe can rattle off a list of animals that need the water in Strawberry Creek: frogs, insects, salamanders, and birds such as Bell’s vireo and willow flycatchers.
Retired Forest Service biologist Steve Loe voices concerns

Retired Forest Service biologist Steve Loe voices concerns about Nestle’s use of water from the San Bernardino National Forest.
(Photo: Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun)

An increasingly rare species of native fish, the Santa Ana speckled dace, used to survive in Strawberry Creek. Then, after the wildfire and floods of 2003, the little fish disappeared from Strawberry Creek and other nearby streams. Scientists who surveyed the area concluded that the devastating fire and flooding had wiped out the populations.

Loe said he suspects the bottling operation contributed to their demise by leaving few spots with enough water for them to survive through the summers. “It makes everything in the stream more vulnerable having all of that water removed.”

Nestle disputes that and says its use of water didn’t harm the fish. But Loe said siphoning off water that could otherwise flow in the creek poses clear threats that need to be fully studied, particularly in light of the drought and climate change.

Loe first raised his concerns in an email in September to a list of federal and state officials and others, including a Nestle Waters manager. He pointed out that Nestle’s permit “has long expired and needs to be reissued,” requiring an analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He suggested a meeting.

Soon afterward, Loe met with the Nestle manager and laid out his concerns. Five months later – after he and others sent additional critical letters to the government and after The Desert Sun posed questions about the expired permit – Forest Service officials met with Loe and told him they have started to evaluate the reissuance of the expired permit.

While pleased that the agency acknowledged the issue, Loe still has concerns. He wants to see an environmental study prepared by an independent third party. He also wants a review of Nestle’s use of water from Deer Canyon Springs in the national forest. He said it’s time for immediate measures to put more water into the streams while those environmental reviews, which can take years, are carried out.

“Because of the drought emergency, they need to go beyond just doing the NEPA,” Loe said. “I would like to see the Forest Service and Nestle agree not to take water until they know if it’s OK to take water. This hasn’t been studied in a long time.”

Ultimately, Loe said, protecting the flows of Strawberry Creek will likely require putting limits on how much water can be piped out.

“To keep taking water is just so risky if you care about the long-term health of that stream,” he said. “We should be sitting down with Nestle and we should be saying, ‘We’ve got to do something here.'”

Strawberry Creek cascades down from the mountains in a rocky canyon filled with live oaks, white alder trees and poison oak. Often, the stream is narrow enough to jump across. Running alongside it is a 4-inch stainless steel pipe supported on metal scaffolding.

“That’s Arrowhead’s pipe coming down right there,” said Gary Earney, a retired Forest Service employee, standing on the bank of the creek and leaning on a walking stick.

Earney used to administer permits for the Forest Service, and he said the agency has never done an assessment of how the taking of water affects the creek. Back when the water pipes were installed in the early 20th century, he pointed out, no one conducted environmental reviews. Now, he said, it’s long overdue.

“I’m not opposed to the taking of water. But the water removed needs to be surplus to the needs of the national forest,” Earney said. If the water is needed for wildlife, he said, it should instead be diverted at the national forest’s boundary after it has flowed through the creek.

Determining how much water is needed for a healthy ecosystem, he said, will require a thorough study. And that hasn’t been done in all these years, he said, because the Forest Service lacks sufficient funding after repeated budget cuts and has a large backlog of expired permits.

“It’s a national problem,” Earney said. “I think it’s just improper management and poor funding.”

Walking among boulders, Earney said that if more water were allowed to flow in the creek, it would provide for plants and animals and would also sink into aquifers at the base of the mountains.

“We need to ensure that we have enough water to sustain the forest’s health,” Earney said. “I think we should look at whether or not it’s a more beneficial use of this water to be bottled and sold in small bottles, or to be allowed to go down and drain off the forest and recharge the groundwater.”

While Nestle’s expired permit hasn’t been scrutinized in nearly three decades, some other water users have been required to cut back. In the mid-2000s, as part of a regional review, the Forest Service went through the permits of hundreds of cabins on land in the national forest and reexamined their use of water from creeks. In Barton Flats, for instance, dozens of cabin owners were told they could no longer draw water from Barton Creek; instead, they would have to use wells or install tanks and truck in water. Cabin owners spent thousands of dollars putting in tanks.

“Some of these people had been using the water with water rights for 80 years, and it was very costly to make the change. Nestle takes more water from the stream in one day than the total of all of those cabin owners in a year,” Loe said. “It’s just so unfair.”

“We made the little people do the right thing,” he said, “and we’re not making the big people do the right thing.”

Amanda Frye, a community activist who lives in Redlands, said she finds the lack of oversight by the Forest Service disturbing, particularly during the drought.

“The U.S. government is just giving away our natural resources to an international corporation,” Frye said. “I think that’s really wrong.”