Is Nestlé Ignoring The Drought?

Nestlé ’s perspective in the wake of finger pointing


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By K.P. Sander

Riverside County – By now you have most likely heard of Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D-California) declaration of a statewide drought emergency, urging all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.  Not surprising, with California facing one of its most severe droughts on record.

Municipalities and individuals alike are trying to do their part: shorter showers, landscaping changes, fixing leaky faucets, and more.  But what about Corporate America?  Is everyone doing their part?

There is some controversy surrounding corporate giant, Nestlé Waters North America, owner of Arrowhead Water.  Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water is sourced from a natural spring located on the reservation for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, located at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Nestlé leases tribal land and has been extracting the water from wells near the spring for about 15 years.  With underground water stores declining due to the drought – in a desert area that only gets a few inches of rainfall each year – many are wondering how much water Nestlé is extracting, and what accountability measures are in place.

The Morongo Reservation is in itself a sovereign nation, and as such is not required to comply with Gov. Brown’s drought mandate.  But is that allowing Nestlé to make environmentally unconscionable decisions?

The Desert Sun reported that Morongo filed a 2013 accounting with the state for 598 acre-feet of groundwater being pumped: “Those amounts translate to about 200 million gallons a year,” or enough water for approximately 400 typical desert homes.”  Nestlé allegedly stopped releasing annual reports of accountability in 2009.

The spring in question was sold by the Cabazon Water District to the Morongo tribe in early 2000, and the Arrowhead bottling production started shortly thereafter.  While no one is questioning that the plant helps the economy in terms of jobs, some say bottling the water in the midst of a severe drought is not the best use of the resource.

The truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are drinking more water – specifically more bottled water.  And Nestlé is not the corporate villain they have been made out to be.

Jane Lazgin, a spokesperson for Nestlé Waters North America, Inc., provides a different perspective, and one that is more in alignment with California’s drought concerns than previously thought.

Nestlé does, in fact, have five springs in Southern California, and one of those springs is on Tribal lands belonging to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.  Nestlé employs a team of geologists who manage and measure each of these springs for sustainability.

“Our water use needs to be reported to the governing body, and in the case of the Morongo spring, it is the Tribal officials – who, incidentally, are great conservationists and hold Nestlé  to a very high standard,” says Lazgin.

Overall, water consumption is up due to health consciousness, and Nestlé supplies drinking water as an alternative to sweetened, caloric drinks; good for health and good for the environment.  Lazgin says that Nestlé’s job is to be sure that they have a sustainable supply of water available to meet demands.

“By nature, the bottling of water is an efficient process,” she says.

Nestlé’s production plant has received a silver LEED rating (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to guide and provide sustainability standards).  To earn points for this environmental leadership rating, they need to limit water and energy loss; so, yes, they definitely share the concerns for California’s drought.

Nestlé is an obvious water user, but of the 108 facilities that bottle water in California, Nestlé owns only five of them.  And even this is only a “drop in the bucket” of water used by industrial manufacturers.

Says Lazgin, “This is the equivalent of watering two golf courses over the period of one year.”

To further share in environmental consciousness, Nestlé has been able to extract 60% of the plastic used in all of their water containers, and the bottles themselves are manufactured with 50% recycled materials.  Working in concert with the CarbonLITE recycling plant in Riverside, California, Nestlé strives to further reduce carbon emissions and environmental waste.

“It creates an eco-friendly domino effect of savings to the environment – less plastic, lower shipping costs, less energy being used,” says Lazgin about their commitment to the environment.

Perhaps it’s all about perspective, but Nestlé appears to be working with – not against – the efforts to assist with California’s drought initiatives.