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Nestle Plans for Healthy Forest and Water Bottling

Nelson Switzer, chief sustainability officer of Nestle Waters North America, explains the company’s operations that draw water for bottling from the San Bernardino National Forest.

Written by Nelson Switzer Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Nestle Waters North America draws water from the San Bernardino National Forest for water bottled under the Arrowhead label.USFS

After years of drought and sacrifice, Californians are understandably concerned about how their water resources are managed. They want answers and they want to know that we are all in this together.

At Nestle Waters North America, we know that some questions have focused on our operations in the San Bernardino National Forest, where the company and its predecessors have bottled Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water from Strawberry Canyon for more than a century.

Arrowhead is deeply rooted in the history of the region and we are committed to the local community.

A recent article, “Behind the Lawsuit to Turn Off Spigot to Nestle,” showed one perspective on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) process to renew Nestle Waters’ special-use permit to transport water through the forest.

Here is another.

First, Nestle Waters holds senior water rights dating back to the 1880s in the San Bernardino National Forest. These water rights govern our ability to withdraw water, and we continue to comply with these water rights in all respects. In fact, our annual water use is reported to the State Water Resources Control Board and is publicly available. The USFS has confirmed that Nestle’s special-use permit remains valid during the reissuance process.

Second, we comply with USFS standards and regulations and always have.

It’s important to note that our national forests, under the direction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are managed for a variety of purposes, such as grazing, timber, fishing, water and recreation. It is not unusual for companies to operate on land managed by the USFS, and to assist them in their operations, especially around fire and flood.

For instance, with a team of biologists, hydrologists, geologists and engineers, we work alongside the USFS to help manage this stunning landscape so that it will be here for generations to come. As Nestle Waters’ chief sustainability officer, I know that from a business and environmental perspective, nothing is gained by managing any resource for the short term. Instead, we should seek opportunities to protect and create natural, social and economic value through our activities. This is a key area of focus for us at Nestle, which we call “creating shared value.”

Third, we are committed to science.

As part of the permit renewal process, Nestle has proposed a plan that would establish transparent, science-based triggers for measuring the impact of its water withdrawals on the health of the forest. Using the Palmer Drought Severity Index, a scientifically accepted standard, the company has volunteered to reduce withdrawals if certain environmental conditions are indicated. Other triggers cover impacts on the riparian habitat and on the populations and health of individual species. This adaptive management plan establishes transparent, scientific standards for measuring and mitigating any adverse effects from our operations, should they be measured.

Finally, it is important to note that we do not “pump” water from springs in Strawberry Canyon. The systems we employ rely on a gravity-operated catchment system. That means we source only spring water that reaches the surface, ensuring that we do not collect more than is naturally provided. It is true that there are variations in spring flow, but these variations are part of the natural hydrologic system influenced by climatic and local weather patterns, vegetation and geologic conditions.

We appreciate that this drought has heightened the level of awareness of water resource management and our operations in California. We welcome the opportunity to answer the public’s questions. As a company with a heritage or more than 120 years in California, we too are concerned about the impact this drought is having on families, businesses and communities. We are determined to do our part to conserve and to continue our stewardship of natural resources in the communities in which we live and work.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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