SAN BERNADINO NATIONAL FOREST – NESTLE’S QUEST FOR A NEW SPECIAL PERMIT

The Forest Service is currently investigating whether to grant Nestle Waters North America a new permit for its wells and pipelines operations. The special use permit will last for five years and will require the company to undertake studies on water supply and habitat. The company says it is already monitoring the environment at the springs it uses. It would be interesting to learn exactly how it does this and what records are kept as a matter of transparency.

The current operation involves collecting water in wells on the mountainside which flows through the pipeline running beside Strawberry Creek. Water is then stored in a tank and hauled in trucks to Ontario where it is bottled. 36 million gallons of water was pumped from the forest in 2015 compared to 28 million gallons in 2014. Nestle has a total of five bottling plants in California alone.

An investigation last year uncovered that Nestle has been relying on a permit with a 1988 expiry date. This permit was issued to maintain the water pipelines and other infrastructure which the company uses. It will remain in effect until a decision is made by the Forest Service to either renew or deny it.

Before making that decision, the Forest Service is to carry out an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The permit will be granted unless the environmental study shows Strawberry Creek’s water flow is compromised by Nestle’s operations and that the extracted water goes beyond the future needs of the Forest Service. The permit will most likely not set a limit on the volume of water that can be extracted. The Forest Service does not collect fees for the water currently used by Nestle. The cost of an annual permit to the company is $524.

Three environmental groups sued the Forest Service in federal court late last year over Nestle’s continued use of infrastructure without a valid permit. One of the organizations, Courage Campaign, has presented the Forest Service a petition with over 280,000 signatures requesting it halt Nestle’s operations while the environmental review is undertaken. The Forest Service held a public meeting in April this year which was open to public and industry comments. Nestle also filed a friend of the court brief in May which has extended the court hearing until late May. Nestle generally disapproves of the renewal process for the special use permit and has presented a document to the Forest Service in addition to its amicus brief.

The company’s presence in the forest is unpopular due to the severe drought in California. Nestle has been asked to stop bottling water, especially during the drought. It’s operations also threaten sensitive habitat along Strawberry Creek near San Bernadino with impacts on several endangered species.

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