Agriculture · California

Calif. water regulators crack down on Nestlé water bottling

The California Water Resources Control Board drafted a cease and desist order against Nestlé of Friday, asking the Swiss company to stop removing millions of gallons of water a year out of the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.

For several decades, Nestlé’s water operation there, primarily for it’s Arrowhead brand of bottled water, has been called out by many groups for contributing to the California water crisis, causing harm to the area, and not being charged enough for the operation.

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service issues a permit fee of $2,100 a year to Nestlé to operate in the National Forest, but does not charge for water or for an easement on federal property.

Nestlé has dodged previous scandals in the past, such as the 2015 investigation that found that Nestlé had been using a permit that expired in 1988, and a 2017 California Water Resources Control Board warning over water rights.

However, continued public and environmentalist pressure, as well as a looming drought in California, resulted in the Water Resources Control Board’s order on Friday, calling Nestlé’s Arrowhead operation an “unauthorized diversion and threatened unauthorized diversion from Strawberry Creek.”

“It is concerning that these diversions are continuing despite recommendations from the initial report, and while the state is heading into a second dry year,” said assistant deputy director of the Division of Water Rights Jule Rizzardo on Friday.

“The state will use its enforcement authority to protect water and other natural resources as we step up our efforts to further build California’s drought resilience.”

In addition to the drought threat, multiple violations were also laid out in the order, including much of the water not being lawfully diverted. While the Water Resources Control Board didn’t issue Nestlé any fines with the order draft on Friday due to wanting Nestlé to comply with the order, the Board did note that it may be possible should they still not comply. Fines of up to $1,000 per day dating back to 2017 could be retroactively issued, cumulating into over $1 million.

Nestlé may also lose access to the San Bernardino National Forest if the order is approved, due to the federal permit being dependent on state law compliance.

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The San Joaquin Valley Sun
Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.