originally posted at www.indybay.com
by Dan Bacher
SACRAMENTO, CA – Environmental and human rights activists, holding plastic “torches” and “pitchforks,” formed human barricades at both entrances to the Nestlé Waters bottling plant in Sacramento at 5:00 a.m. on Friday, March 20, effectively shutting down the company’s operations for the day.
Members of the “Crunch Nestlé Alliance” shouted out a number of chants, including ”We got to fight for our right to water,” “Nestlé, Stop It, Water Not For Profit,” and “¿Agua Para Quien? Para Nuestra Gente.”
Representatives of the alliance said the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during a record drought. They claim Sacramento City Hall has made it possible through a “corporate welfare giveaway.”
“This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation,” Coalition spokesperson Andy Conn said. “For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.”
Lola Ellis of 99 Rise Sacramento, who spoke on the bullhorn at the protest, said,
“Nestlé’s bottling of water in Sacramento is unsustainable in the current state of drought. We really don’t’ know how much water they are taking from the aquifer and that is a scary thing.”
“The water needs to be used for the local community. If there is not enough water for the local community, the Nestlé corporation should not be making a profit,” she emphasized.
The coalition protested what they call Nestlé’s “virtually unlimited use of water” while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them.
The coalition is calling on Nestlé to pay rates commensurate with its enormous profit, or voluntarily close down.
“Nestlé pays only 65 cents for each 470 gallons it pumps out of the ground – the same rate as an average residential water user. But the company can turn the area’s water around, and sell it back to Sacramento at mammoth profit,” according to a news release from the activists.
They said Sacramento officials have refused attempts to obtain details of Nestlé’s water use. Coalition members have addressed the Sacramento City Council and requested that Nestlé either pay a commercial rate under a two tier level, or pay a tax on its profit.
A call to the Sacramento City Department of Utilities about the details of Nestlés water use hadn’t been returned as of press time.
But according to Fox 40 News, “In 2014 Nestlé says it used 50 million gallons from the Sacramento Municipal Water Supply, which they say is a fraction of one percent of total water demand within the city of Sacramento.”
“Nestlé can claim any amount of water they want, but we haven’t seen any documentation of the amount of water they’re using,” said Bob Saunders, also with the Crunch Nestlé Alliance. “We do know they’re allowed to take up to 80 million gallons per year.”
Mauro Oliveira, known as “Red Sun,” showed up at the protest with his children, including Rise, Aren and Mahai’a, and connected the battle of local activists against Nestlé with the struggle of Indian Tribes, family farmers, grassroots environmental activists and fishermen to stop fracking, the Shasta Dam raise, and Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the twin tunnels, the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.
“This whole idea of bottling water goes against Indigenous Peoples’ concept of water is sacred,” said Oliveira. “The 20,000-year-old water in aquifers belongs to the last generation on earth. We don’t have the right to tap into this water.”
“The Governor said we should conserve, but millions of gallons of fracking waste are being reinjected into the aquifer in California. The Governor talks out of both sides of his mouth. Polluting our water supplies is a violation of human rights,” said Oliveira.
Raiding pristine water from a National Forest stream
The bottling plant in Sacramento is not the only one in California. A recent investigation in the Desert Sun found that Nestlé Waters North America has been pumping water from pristine streams of the San Bernardino National Forest with little to no oversight by the U.S. Forestry Service. (http://www.desertsun.com/story/news/2015/03/05/bottling-water-california-drought/24389417/)
“Nestlé Waters North America holds a longstanding right to use this water from the national forest near San Bernardino,” according to the Sun. “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.”
On its website, Nestlé claims that it is committed to “environmental stewardship.” (http://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/about-nestle-waters)
“36 years of experience promoting healthy hydration, Nestlé Waters North America has 15 leading U.S. and Canadian bottled water brands,” according to the company. “The company’s commitment to environmental stewardship, especially in the areas of water use, packaging and energy, as well as its dedication to partnering in the communities where it operates, have led Nestlé Waters to achieve the number one bottled drinking water position in the U.S.”
Activists disagree strongly with the company’s claims of commitment to “environmental stewardship.” In October, the “Crunch Nestlé” coalition released a “white paper” highlighting predatory water profiteering actions taken by Nestle’ Water Bottling Company in various cities, counties, states and countries.
Most of those great “deals” yielded mega profits for Nestlé at the expense of the public. Additionally, the environmental impact on many of those areas yielded “disastrous results,” the paper stated.
Nestlé is currently the leading supplier of the world’s bottled water, including such brands as Perrier and San Pellegrino. It has has 7,500 employees and 29 bottled water facilities across the U.S. and Canada, and annual revenues were $4.0 billion in 2012, up 6.8% from 2011. For nearly four decades, activists from an array of organizations have criticized the company for its human rights violations throughout the world.