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  • Kyle Tianshi

Nestle Versus San Bernardino: A Fight for Water Rights

Updated: Jul 20

By Kyle Tianshi, Grade 10


The San Bernardino National Forest is one of nature’s finest miracles–a lustrous unpolluted sky over 800,000 acres of pine forests, soaring peaks, and cascading waterfalls. Amid the picturesque landscape, a seemingly innocuous metal tube runs down the slope of a mountain. The standard hiker might stumble upon a portion of the pipe and pay it no heed, but most don’t realize that it connects an aquifer of natural water to a factory owned by Nestle, one of the world’s leading bottled water manufacturers.


Nestle withdraws 60 million gallons of water from the aquifer every year. Despite claiming they constantly monitor the environmental conditions of the spring and only collect water that naturally comes to the surface, their actions have undoubtedly impacted the forest negatively. Residents noticed a significant decrease in the water level of streams, sometimes reporting that rivers were running completely dry for periods of time. As news spread and protests arose about the company’s extravagant water usage, people began uncovering the true nature of the operation. Nestle must pay a small fee of several hundred dollars per year for a license from the United States Forest Service to gain access to the water. It sounds simple enough, but people were shocked to find that Nestle was operating under an expired permit from 1988.


By 2017, the petitions against Nestle had reached their peak. People were rightly perturbed that a foreign company was somehow allowed to drain millions of gallons of water while the rest of California did all they could to conserve during the decade-long drought. A petition called the Courage Campaign amassed over 140,000 signatures within a few months–and each name under the movement meant an email to Nestle and the California Water Resources Control Board. Whether it was to reduce the staggering number of emails storming their inbox or to get to the bottom of the situation, the state finally began examining Nestle’s operations.


The investigation found that Nestle might only be entitled to 2.3 million gallons of water, a far cry from the 58 million they took that year. The California Water Resources Control Board offered to renew Nestle’s permit for three more years, giving them the ability to continue the operation as long as there was sufficient water in the spring. The decision was backed by the argument that they needed more time to do the proper studies and accurately assess the situation. Though many were unhappy that Nestle could continue the operation, if only temporarily, there was nothing that they could do except sit back and wait.


On April 23, 2021, the California Water Board released a draft cease and desist order, informing Nestle Waters that they must stop all unlawful diversion of water and limit themselves to over 25 times less water than they were originally taking. The announcement came as a huge relief to many Californians and is an enormous step in the right direction.


The war, however, is far from over. As of today, Nestle is still fighting against the Water Board, and the state is finding it difficult to take down a multi-billion dollar company. This is where we should step in. One of the biggest reasons why the cease and desist draft came to fruition in the first place was the overwhelming public outcry from citizens all across America. Sign petitions. Voice your concerns. Generate awareness. And most importantly, the next time you take a sip from a plastic water bottle, think about where it came from.


https://www.aquariumbcn.com/en/blog/conservation-and-sustainability/water-bottles-in-the-sea-the-big-threat-facing-the-oceans/#:~:text=For%20the%20first%20time%20a,than%20fishes%20in%20the%20sea.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/29/the-fight-over-water-how-nestle-dries-up-us-creeks-to-sell-water-in-plastic-bottles

https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/nestle-gets-away-pumping-californias-water-next-nothing/

https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/02/12/lawmakers-open-groundwater-fight-against-bottled-water-companies

https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/ground-water#:~:text=Some%20consequences%20of%20aquifer%20depletion,depend%20on%20regular%20surface%20flows.

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water#:~:text=Globally%2C%20at%20least%202%20billion,000%20diarrhoeal%20deaths%20each%20year.

Cover photo from: Urban Milwaukee