A State of Crazy People
Bottling National Park water and shipping it out
of California during a drought
(The Desert Sun) - Miles from the nearest paved road in the San Bernardino National Forest, two sounds fill a rocky canyon: a babbling stream and the hissing of water flowing through a stainless steel pipe.
From wells that tap into springs high on the mountainside, water gushes down through the pipe to a roadside tank. From there, it is transferred to tanker trucks, hauled to a bottling plant and sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.
Nestle Waters North America holds a longstanding right to use this water from the national forest near San Bernardino. But the U.S. Forest Service hasn't been keeping an eye on whether the taking of water is harming Strawberry Creek and the wildlife that depends on it. In fact, Nestle's permit to transport water across the 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.
Even with California deep in drought, the federal agency hasn't assessed the impacts of the bottled water business on springs and streams in two watersheds that sustain sensitive habitats in the national forest. The lack of oversight is symptomatic of a Forest Service limited by tight budgets and focused on other issues, and of a regulatory system in California that allows the bottled water industry to operate with little independent tracking of the potential toll on the environment.
|Water flows down Strawberry Creek in the mountains north of San Bernardino.|
(Photo: Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun)
In an investigation of the industry's water footprint in the San Bernardino National Forest and other parts of California, The Desert Sun found that:
- No state agency is tracking exactly how much water is used by all of the bottled water plants in California, or monitoring the effects on water supplies and ecosystems statewide. The California Department of Public Health regulates 108 bottled water plants in the state, collecting information on water quality and the sources tapped. But the agency says it does not require companies to report how much water they use.
- That information, when collected piecemeal by state or local agencies, often isn't easily accessible to the public. In some cases, the amounts of water used are considered confidential and not publicly released.
- Even as Nestle Waters has been submitting required reports on its water use, the Forest Service has not been closely tracking the amounts of water leaving the San Bernardino National Forest and has not assessed the impacts on the environment.
- While the Forest Service has allowed Nestle to keep using an expired permit for nearly three decades, the agency has cracked down on other water users in the national forest. Several years ago, for instance, dozens of cabin owners were required to stop drawing water from a creek when their permits came up for renewal. Nestle has faced no such restrictions.
- Only this year, after a group of critics raised concerns in letters and after The Desert Sun inquired about the expired permit, did Forest Service officials announce plans to take up the issue and carry out an environmental analysis.
Bottled water companies in California are typically subject to environmental reviews only when a permit for a new project triggers a formal study. Otherwise, the impacts of bottling plants on creeks and aquifers often aren't scrutinized by government agencies.
Read more at the Desert Sun.com
|Bottles of water move on a conveyor belt at the Nestle Waters |
North America bottling plant in Ontario.
(Photo: Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun)