​Feds investigating Nestle over reports of long-expired water permit amid California drought

AFP Photo / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

AFP Photo / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

Federal officials say they are investigating reports that food company Nestle has been piping water through a national forest in California and then bottling it for retail purposes using a permit that expired nearly 30 years ago.

The United States Forest
confirmed on Friday that the federal agency is
looking into claims laid forth last month in an investigation
published by the Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs,

According to the paper’s reporting, Nestle’s permit to transport
water across San Bernardino 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,”
Ian James wrote in the
paper last month.

Nevertheless, Nestle Waters North America has continued to tap
into local wells in Strawberry Canyon, according to the paper, in
order to acquire the main ingredient bottled for the product sold
on supermarket shelves as “Arrowhead 100 percent Mountain Spring

The Desert Sun’s reporting about the potential impropriety led to
an outcry that has prompted federal officials to try and get to
the bottom as to why the company has continued to operate for 28
years sans permit, and in the midst of a historic state-wide

READ MORE: Nestle continues to sell bottled water
sourced from California despite record drought

“Since this issue was raised and I became aware of how long
that permit has been expired, I have made it a priority to work
on this reissuance project,”
San Bernardino National Forest
Supervisor Jody Noiron told the Desert News on Friday.

“Now that it has been brought to my attention that the Nestle
permit has been expired for so long, on top of the drought… it
has gone to the top of the pile in terms of a program of work for
our folks to work on,”
Noiron said.

Indeed, news of the company’s long-lapsed permit – and ongoing
bottling operations – comes as California Governor Jerry Brown’s
recent signing of a law that calls for a 25 percent mandatory cut
in water use.

But Randy Moore, the Forest Service’s regional forester in
California, told the Desert News that it’s the responsibility of
the state, not companies like Nestle, to keep track of water use.

READ MORE: Sour grapes? California’s drought has
delivered tastier wine – but it may not last

“We’re looking more at what needs to stay in the system and
to make it productive, environmentally sound,”
he said.

In a statement to the newspaper, a spokesperson for Nestle Waters
said the company plans to work with the Forest Service as it
prepares to renew its permit. According to the Desert News,
renewals require environmental assessments under the National
Environmental Policy Act, which might take upwards of two years
to complete.

Nestle Waters North America, a subsidiary of Switzerland-based
Nestle SA, is the largest producer of bottled water in the US.
According to the Desert News’s reporting, a second entity – the
Cucamonga Valley Water District – is also drawing water from the
San Bernardino forest with an expired permit. The paper added
that the company is under contract with Nestle and also provides
water that’s sold in bottles.

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