A petition started by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) sought to send Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke 50,000 signatures by August 15 attacking the firm; it missed this target but still attracted 37,000+ signatories.
“California is in a scorching, record-breaking drought that has cost a billion dollars in agricultural revenue and left them in a state of emergency,” the petition reads, noting that state residents have been urged to cut water usage by 20% during California’s devastating, three-year drought.
Conservationists accuse Nestle Waters of 'profiteering' in drought conditions
“But that hasn’t stopped Nestle from taking water from the state, bottling it, exporting it out of the state and profiting,” the LCV adds, referring to the company’s site in Cabazon, which bottles water from a nearby spring in Millard Canyon under the Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water brand.
The Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA) – a network of 450+ non-profit organizations – supports the petition, warning that Nestle can operate with reduced oversight because its water plant sits on a Native American reservation leased from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, sovereign tribal land is not subject to state agencies or regulations.
We asked Nestle Waters how it would allay people’s concerns after the petition accused it of profiting unethically from the Californian drought and the GCCA allegation that its executives are guilty of “sheer hypocrisy” – paying lip service to sound water management while, in GCCA’s words, “depleting an entire ecosystem’s water supply during a record breaking drought”.
'We monitor every spring to avoid adverse impacts': Nestle Waters
Nestle Waters North America director of corporate communications, Jane Lazgin, told BeverageDaily.com: "There is no conflict between what Nestle or the chairman says about our water business and how we operate in California, or elsewhere.”
At every spring it managed, she said, Nestle Waters has monitoring systems to examine the relationship between water withdrawn and stream flows, groundwater levels. “We’re always looking at that to check there’s no adverse impact on aquifers or the surrounding area,” she said.
Lazgin said Nestle Waters had cut water use in its Californian plants by 19% between 2010 and 2013, while the company has five springs in Southern California alone and diversified use thereof to reduce over-reliance on any one in particular.
Reflecting wryly on the flak the bottled water industry took from pressure groups, Lazgin said: “If you look at a bottle of water you see water. There's that aspect of virtual water that people don’t really think of when they look at other products, beer say, a tomato, their iPhone or even car tires.
“These all take water to produce but the water component isn’t as obvious. But it takes so much more to bottle anything – juices, soft drinks, beer, anything else that’s packaged.”
The 'virtual water' issue - why aren't brewers under fire?
This year Nestle Waters cited statistics from BIER showing that it uses 1.39l of water per liter of bottled water produced, versus 2.02l for one liter of ‘soda’ and 4.0 liters for one liter of ‘beer’.
“It goes right back to the agricultural components too, the water that is used to grow, say, sugar, or citrus, whatever it might be,” Lazgin said, noting that bottled water had the lowest footprint of any packaged beverage and was necessary because everyone needed to hydrate, and most people in the States drank packaged drinks.
"So if you're going to hydrate then your best choice is either bottled water, which has the lightest footprint of any packaged beverage and the most efficient water use, or tap water," she added.
Lazgin said Nestle Waters understood people’s concerns during a time of drought but insisted her company was a “very small and efficient” water user compared with agricultural or industrial concerns.
She said the most recent US Geological Survey (USGS) summary of estimated water use in the US data showed that Nestle Water accounted for only 0.004% of all water used in California in 2005; the company has packaged this data up in a PDF that you can read here.
Almost 80% of Californian output sold in state
Lazgin also moved to defuse the GCCA’s claim that Nestle Waters profits from exporting water to states beyond California, stating that almost 80% of production is sold in the state, with the balance sold to immediately neighbouring states.
Campaigners have attacked Nestle Waters for not submitting reports to local water districts over how much water is taken from the Millard Canyon spring to be bottled in Cabazon since 2009, but Lazgin insisted the company did report its water use to the “relevant governing body”.
She repeated this point when asked if fuller public disclosure – if indeed Nestle was such a minor and responsible water user – would not help the company win the PR battle with online opponents.
Jeff Gohringer, national press secretary for the LCV, did not respond to a request for comment.