Nestlé is Taking Your Water. We Sued the U.S. Forest Service to Stop It.

October 13, 2015

This past spring, media outlets lit up with stories about Nestlé pumping of millions of gallons of water out of southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest for bottling. More than a dozen groups mounted petitions asking for Nestlé to stop its water bottling operations during California’s historic drought. Having produced The Story of Bottled Water, and watchdogged Nestlé for years, our team was keen to engage our Community members on this issue. So we asked you to help us produce a movie and you responded in a big way.

This summer, during a trip to the San Bernardino National Forest to shoot our film, I saw first hand the effect of Nestlé’s operation on the environment. It was like a gut punch. I saw a career Forest Service biologist nearly cry as told me about the lack of water flow in streams. I watched another become frustrated beyond words with what he felt was a grave injustice by a bully corporation stealing from our public forest. Steve and Gary, the retired Forest Service workers featured in our new film, are these men; and they’re tough. Being there, working with and learning from these guys made all of us at The Story of Stuff Project inspired to help them in their fight. Because this wasn’t just about one stream, in one forest, in an increasing dry corner of the world; this was about a corporation trying to privatize an essential shared resource, water.

So, What To Do?

While Nestlé’s water take in San Bernardino is having a devastating effect on the national forest habitat, it isn’t a significant portion of the overall footprint of water take in the state. So we knew from the start it would be hard to get state lawmakers to act. But we weren’t content to simply release a movie without holding Nestlé’s feet to the fire. So we started to study the issue intensely.

Indeed, the movie we released today, funded by our Community members, gave us the resources we needed to go deep. We dug into county records, submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, and pored over hundreds of pages of documents. In the process, we uncovered some pretty startling evidence, both of Nestlé’s egregious violations of the public trust and of Forest Service inaction. Most importantly, we discovered that when Nestlé’s permit expired in 1988, its operation should have been terminated. Instead, the Forest Service kept on cashing Nestlé’s annual check, leaving them to take hundreds of millions of gallons of water off public land.

Taking Action

And so today, with partners Courage Campaign and the Center for Biological Diversity, we sued the Forest Service in federal court, asking it to enforce its own rules and turn off Nestlé’s spigot.

It’s uncharted waters for The Story of Stuff Project, better known for cartoon graphics than courtroom drama, to launch a lawsuit. We didn’t make the decision to do so hastily. But after months of study — and with input from many experts — we decided it was our best chance to protect the public resources at stake.

What We The People Want

For Nestlé to continue to operate on public lands, it must be proven that the water they take is surplus to the needs of the forest. That’s the law. But without a review, no one can determine, legally, if their operation is depleting the forest of water. We want a full and transparent geological and hydrological study, paid for by Nestlé, to determine how their operation is affecting our land. Until such time that it is proven that Nestle’s operation isn’t hurting our forest, we want them to stop taking water. Immediately.

Today, we’re taking a stand together, saying no to the privatization of our water. Today, we fight back. We’re incredibly grateful for our Community’s support, for our partners in this work and for the commitment of the folks on the ground, like Steve and Gary, who’ve done so much to bring this story to light. And please, make sure to watch the movie and sign the petition. We’ll keep you updated about other ways to get involved as the campaign proceeds.

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