Dugan: Private water, public crisis

BY JACK DUGAN | APRIL 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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The California water crises has been saturating the news recently with Gov. Jerry Brown mandating a 25 percent urban water cutback statewide. This ordeal has prompted scrutiny of California’s water-consuming industries.

Brown received criticism of not imposing any water restriction on California’s agricultural business, which, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, consumes approximately 40 percent of the state’s water.

The drought has also brought to light certain practices used by the water-bottling company Nestlé, sparking protest and online petitions calling for the immediate stop to its California operations, currently sitting at about 150,000 signatures. The California company has apparently been harvesting water from some of California’s driest areas on expired permits. According to a Desert Sun investigation, the company has been pumping from an operation at Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest, just 60 miles from Las Angeles, on an permit expired since 1987.

In a time of California water crises brought by another crippling drought to the most populous state, the company has been dishonestly harvesting the precious resource, bottling it, exporting it, and selling it elsewhere.

Though Nestlé’s water industry may be a drop in the bucket in comparison to the state’s agriculture industry, it is essentially taking a precious resource that should belong to the greater California population and selling it at a ridiculous markup from the cost at source. Its business model for its bottled-water industry, at its bedrock, is to exploit a public resource. Not only is that perhaps a morally compromising business practice, it also takes about three liters of water to produce a single liter of bottled water, according to a 2006 study by the Pacific Institute. The logic just isn’t there.

In a recent article anticipating the “worst drought in 1,000 years,” National Geographic projects a “megadrought” to hit the Southwestern United States by the end of the century. Such practices could be detrimental to the area, bringing over-blown drought driven dystopian caricatures of society such as seen in Tank Girl to an unfortunate reality.

In a recent op-ed article addressing this issue, President and CEO Tim Brown wrote, “The reality is that our California operations are providing people water for consumption, not wasting a precious natural resource.” Perhaps he doesn’t understand selling public resource for private gain in the midst of another water crisis may not sit well with Californians.

The core of this issue is not exactly a waste of water, though Nestlé is, because the three liters consumed to produce the single liter of bottled water could just remain three liters of uncompromised California water. The issue is private allocation of California public resource, to be sold outside of California in the midst of a crisis that is particularly affecting the state.

But, with the bottled water industry unfortunately bringing in about $13 billion and a growth of about 6.1 percent from 2013, according to the International Bottled Water Association, maybe there’s not much of a moral incentive for companies such as Nestlé to function in sync with their environment. Perhaps the responsibility lies with us as the consumer, so for Earth Day why not go out and buy an aluminum bottle for your hydration needs?

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