Federal officials and conservation groups have reached a settlement that will stop Nestlé from using its 30-year-old expired permit to draw water from the San Bernardino National Forest for its bottled water business, one of the conservation groups says.
The settlement, reached Wednesday in a 2015 lawsuit filed by three conservation groups opposed to Nestle’s water diversions, requires the U.S. Forest Service to decide within 30 days whether to issue a new permit for a water pipeline and Nestlé’s related operations in the national forest, according to a statement from Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups in the lawsuit.
As part of the settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity, Courage Campaign Institute and the Story of Stuff Project agreed to dismiss an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about the old permit after a new decision is issued.
If they are not satisfied with the Forest Service’s decision on a new permit, the groups say they have the right to challenge it.
Federal court records observed Wednesday do not reflect a settlement being reached, however several mediation conferences were held this year.
Under its current permit, Nestlé reportedly drew 162 million gallons of water per year from Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest, according to CBD’s statement. In 2016, Nestlé posted $8.3 billion in profits from its water business, the statement stated. The groups point to a U.S. Geological Survey report last year stating that despite heavy winter precipitation last year across the state, Strawberry Creek’s flow levels were the lowest since the agency began tracking them 96 years ago.
The groups want the Forest Service to deny Nestlé a new permit and protect Strawberry Creek. If Nestlé is granted a new permit, the group’s want the Forest Service to protect the creek, the land as well as plants and animals fed by the water.
“This agreement stops Nestlé and the Forest Service from relying on a 30-year-old permit, but Strawberry Creek still desperately needs protection,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in the statement.
“The real tragedy is that Nestlé is sucking the creek dry to bottle water for profit, dooming plants and wildlife that have relied on it for tens of thousands of years. We’ll keep fighting to protect Strawberry Creek and our forests from commercial exploitation,” she continued.
The State Water Resources Control Board also is evaluating Nestlé’s water rights on Strawberry Creek.
In comments made in February, following the release of the State Water Resources Control Board report of Dec. 20, 2017, Nestlé Waters North America said that it “is not making any unauthorized diversions from Strawberry Canyon.”
Nestlé asserted the report does not account for “additional volumes” available to it from several categories of water rights.
In a statement made the day it filed the comments, Nestlé asserted that it “currently takes less water annually than it has valid water rights for.” Nestlé maintains it has rights to at least 271 acre-feet of water in Strawberry Canyon each year.
At one point during the 37-page Report of Investigation, the state says Nestlé’s current operations do not appear to be supported by rights to the diversion or use of water exceeding 26 acre-feet per annum. In another portion of the document, the state says Nestlé may have rights to up to an additional 126 acre-feet of groundwater, for a total of 152 acre-feet.
Nestlé, in responding to the lawsuit and the December state report, has said it’s a responsible water steward and is committed to long-term sustainability.
Nestlé traces its San Bernardino Mountains water rights heritage back to the 1880s, prior to the creation of the San Bernardino National Forest in 1893 by President Benjamin Harrison, the company says in its 160-page response to the Report of Investigation.
By Mike Cruz, San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.
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