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California has become synonymous with the word drought in the past four years. With no indication that the drought will end anytime soon, the state has turned to rather desperate measures to keep water flowing. Restaurants are no longer permitted to bring customers water if they do not expressly ask for it, and violators of new water usage regulations are subject to a $500 fine. This situation has become so shockingly bad that Californians have no other choice but to pump water from prehistoric aquifers, just to meet supply needs.

In case you missed it: this is a really big deal.

Yet, amidst California’s growing thirst, bottled water companies still seem to be pumping and packaging water from the San Bernardino National Forest … in California. How is it that a state so drought stricken can afford to pass water supplies to bottled water distributors? Simply put, they can’t (and possibly didn’t even know it was happening).

A recent investigation in the Desert Sun found that Nestlé Waters North America has been pumping water from this pristine streams of this national forest with little to no oversight by the U.S. Forestry Services. While Nestlé has held the rights to extract water from this national park for years, their official permit to transport water from the stream to their bottling plant expired in 1988. Between 1988 and now, tens of millions of gallons of water have been drawn from this stream annually and sold under the Arrowhead 100 percent Mountain Spring Water label. Although Nestlé asserts that they do monitor water levels and the impact on local wildlife, it seems more than a little irresponsible to leave this task up to the company that profits from exploiting this natural resource.

So what’s really going on here?

How Taking Water Supplies Impacts the Local Ecosystem

Wait What? Nestlé is Pumping Millions of Gallons of Water From California's National Parks and No One Seems to Care?David Vosti/Flickr


The impact of California’s drought spans far beyond humans. Native wildlife have also suffered immensely due to lack of food and water resources. Local salmon populations have dropped by 12 percent, deer populations have decreased nearly 75 percent, and waterfowl populations have dropped significantly. The loss of these species has a ripple effect, which can lead to the collapse of the entire ecosystem if efforts aren’t made to restore the balance. Seeing as how California would need 11 trillion gallons of water to end their current drought crisis, restoring this balance seems nearly impossible.

In the San Bernardino National Forest, many species rely on Strawberry Creek as a source of water.

Steve Loe, a retired Forest Service employee explained to the Desert Sun that frogs, salamanders, insects, birds such as willow flycatchers and Bell’s vireo are just some of them. During his days with the Forest Service, he saw the Santa Ana speckled dace go extinct from the river after a series of wildfires and floods. Although these natural events played a role in the loss of the species, Loe suspects that if Nestlé had not depleted water levels in the creek to such an extent, the dace would have survived the summer.

Age-Old Oversight

800px-Mill_Creek_drainage,_San_Bernardino_National_ForestWikimedia Commons


Nestlé is required to submit reports on water usage in the park, but the Forest Service has not closely tracked how much water is actually being taken from the creek. When the pipe was first installed around 1906, an environmental impact assessment was not performed and the modern service hasn’t carried out a study to gauge the pipeline’s impact on native wildlife since.

If we do not know how much water is needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem, how can we justify allowing 705 millions of gallons of water to be funneled into bottles, annually? (Especially in the middle of a serious drought, and especially because we don’t need more bottled water or plastic bottles!)

Essentially, Nestlé is pumping millions of gallons of public water from a drought stricken area and reselling it in the form of bottles to consumers. Yes, this is as ridiculous as it sounds.

Bottling water is an incredibly unsustainable business, and if no one (aside from the people profiting) is monitoring how much water is being extracted from delicate ecosystems, then we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.

The Shocking “Unknown” Impact of Bottling Freshwater Supplies 

5233546650_e1d6866282_zSteve Depolo/Flickr


While the Nestlé news in California has garnered a significant amount of media attention, this is hardly the only instance where bottled water companies have taken precedence over local ecosystems.

Crystal Geyser Water Company opened a facility in Mount Shasta in 2014, much to the dismay of local residents, without performing an environmental impact report. Like Nestlé, Crystal Geyser is not closely monitored by the Forest Service but submits water usage reports. According to the Forest Service, the impact of the company’s water use on groundwater supplies and aquifers is “unknown.” Apparently, “unknown” is the new “okay.”

According to the National Resources Defence Council, “Other springs in national forests across the country have been tapped for use by bottled water companies, including Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, Ocala National Forest in Florida, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, and Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. Information on the consequences is hard to come by.”

Converting public waters into private products is a major issue in the U.S., and the lack of transparency is troubling to say the least.

What You Can Do

Over 1,500 water bottles are consumed in the U.S. every second. We are well aware of the role that plastic bottles play in marine pollution, and as we learn about how their production impacts natural resources it becomes clear that we need to find an alternative.

Luckily, we can all help to reduce our personal impact and slow the demand for bottled water by simply opting for a reusable water bottle. A single reusable bottle can replace 167 plastic water bottles a year (and save you a ton of money). If everyone in the U.S. made this one simple switch, we could significantly reduce the demand for bottled water and see a drop in the resources drained from national parks and reduction in landfill waste. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us.

If the Forest Service isn’t going to be accountable for how our public water supplies are used, it’s up to us to pick up the slack. We can all make a difference by being mindful of our consumption habits and their downstream impacts. Making one small switch in our habits can set us up for an exponential improvement.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.


Lead image source: Don Graham/Flickr

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0 comments on “Millions of Gallons of Water are Being Pumped Out of California for the Worst Possible Reason”

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Prasun Barua
3 Years Ago

Very significant article! http://creategreenplanet.blogspot.com/

3 Years Ago

FYI--Your lead photo is NOT a real lake nor is it on forest service property. It\'s private, man-made, and has a half a cement-bottom. It just looks like a lake. Check your sources. www.foresthome.org

Raven Stevens
3 Years Ago

Crystal Geyser HAS NOT opened yet in Mt. Shasta and we could use all the support we can get. No EIR by the County and it looks like our only remedy is a legal one. We need support. Contact us at [email protected] Thank you!

Henry Plante
3 Years Ago

The water taken is not from public lands according to other unbiased sources. The land that is supplying the water is land belonging to the Indian tribes and is not controlled by the government.Of course the greenies would advocate taking the water, by force if necessary to alleviate the problem they created by not allowing any reservoirs to be built. Perhaps they ( greenies ) should try to talk some sense into the governor and impress upon him that a $68 billion dollar railroad will not have many riders if the state runs out of water. Was in CA 22 years ago and they were having the same problem...NO WATER. Seems like something should have been done since then to cure the problem.

Take Action
3 Years Ago

Sign & Share http://tinyurl.com/NoNoNestle

07 Apr 2015

Nestle has been doing this to 3rd world countries for decades, and now because it\'s on US soil there\'s public interest. This is just as much the fault of the american people as it is the fault of the corporations.

David Zarovny
3 Years Ago

Dale, come on really? You believe that post? I just went to bottledwater.org and its bullshit. The website only exists to make the bottled water industry look good. At the very core of this BUSINESS is profit. They are commoditizing something that everyone needs to be alive. Lets have bagged air next! Let\'s pay a a dollar for some lung-fulls. And then get cancer years later from the packaging substance. And then lets throw that bag away and start a long chain of polluting consequences we can\'t even stop. This blogger is just trying to wake some people up you know? One love man, have a good day.

BottledWaterOrg -- What an impressive post. It\'s like you were paid for it! Neat logical comparisons with numbers and facts to back it all. Well done, you convinced a potential customer water bottling companies aren\'t to blame. Thats what delusional CEO\'s with big greed problems pay you for. You probably have a family to support so you need to fight people like me tooth and nail to keep them checks coming. You won\'t even admit to yourself - in total privacy of the recesses of your mind - that you might be having a huge impact on generations of your offspring. I just wish for everyone on this planet to BE the change they want to see.

David Zarovny
28 Mar 2015

Weird, why does it say I left this comment 4 hours ago? hmmm it\'s been only like 10 minutes tops. Anyway, for the next person to cross this comment thread. This is for you: http://www.bottledlifefilm.com/index.php/home-en.html

Please watch that if you\'re even slightly interested in this. It will do good. TRUST!

3 Years Ago

I agree that the Plastic Bottle issue is huge and something to get all over. However, I find it odd that I have to agree with the Bottled Water Org. on an environmental issue. This is water that people are drinking, they are going to be drinking water from somewhere and need to. Much, possibly most of the water that is consumed in Ca. is from somewhere other than a local source. Some of it from out of state. Don\'t make the mis-distribution of water an issue of the bottled water industry and please do your article on your real issue the "plastic" problem. You\'ll get more support.

Patrick Venton
08 Apr 2015

very well put, this is purified chloramine and chemical free drinking water, no body can do without it . very well put. 99.99 percent of home , so called potable drinkable water flushes toilets, washes cars, waters lawn, and showers. One hell of a difference to the 100 percent bottled ,pure H20 drinking water that Nestle and the like put out. No waste... and plastic bottles are have a refund on them.

3 Years Ago

It’s unfortunate that you did not reach out to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) when preparing your story, as we would have been able to provide you with the facts about bottled water.

Your claim that bottled water in, “an incredibly unsustainable business,” is simply false. The bottled water industry has a long and deeply-held tradition of effectively and responsibly protecting and managing our vital natural resources. Sustainable, protected, and naturally recharged water sources are the single most important aspect of our business. This commitment to environmental excellence holds true wherever bottled water facilities are located.

Bottled water production from groundwater sources accounts for less than 0.02% of the total groundwater withdrawn in the United States each year and in California, a fraction of 1%. In fact, bottled water uses less than 0.004% of all water in the U.S.

On average, only 1.32 liters of water (including the liter of water consumed) and 0.24 mega joules of energy are used to produce one liter of finished bottled water. With bottled water having the lowest energy and water use of all packaged beverages, this healthy choice trend is actually reducing the overall beverage environmental footprint, equating to 6.4 billion gallons of water saved each year.

To put it in context, the entire U.S. bottled water market is about 11 billion gallons; New York City goes through that amount of tap water in one week. Los Angeles goes through that amount of tap water in less than three weeks. According to the UCLA Institute for Environment and Sustainability, at almost 80%, agriculture is the largest user of water in the state, followed by urban residential use at 13%.

The fact is that bottled water production is among the smallest and most efficient of all industry water users. It is curious that this article focuses on the water use oversight of bottled water but not on other, far more impactful water users –– from golf courses to almond growers. Your vigorous and lengthy effort to try and create a cause-and-effect connection between bottled water and the California drought, while at the same time acknowledging no such connection exists, appears to be based on something other than fact-based journalism.

The bottled water industry complies with California’s regulatory framework, which applies to other water users in the same class, and will continue to do so. While this article repeatedly infers that bottled water is acting out of compliance with state regulations, the exact opposite is true.

Another important fact is that most of the bottled water produced in California is consumed in California. If fact, for schools in Los Angeles and communities in the Central Valley that don\'t have access to drinkable water, bottled water is a vital everyday necessity.

To get more facts about bottled water, please visit www.BottledWater.org.

The Enviro Show
3 Years Ago

We don\'t "pick up the slack" for the USFS. We get in their face for NOT DOING THEIR JOB!

3 Years Ago

what is the name of the company pumping water in Ocala National Park. If someone can help me I will spread the word not to buy the water.


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