California officials say Swiss multinational food and drink company, Nestle, has been illegally bottling and selling water.
Since 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has received a litany of complaints which accuse Nestle of unlawfully sourcing water from Strawberry Creek in San Bernardino National Forest. The claims allege that the company holds no right to extract water, which is sold under the Arrowhead brand, from the region.
However, since the state of California attributes water rights partly based on a 'first come, first serve' basis, assessing the legitimacy of the accusation required thorough historic probes.
Last week, following intensive investigations, the water board concluded that the Nestle has been baselessly appropriating water from the Strawberry Canyon watershed.
Nestle California has, over the years, expressed its commitment to “sourcing water exclusively from carefully selected mountain springs,” which “ensures that every drop is as crystal clear as the water revered by Native Americans for its healing powers.”
The company references a 150-year-old claim by David Noble Smith, whose property later became the site of the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, on its website: “Westerners have savored the natural goodness of Arrowhead water since bottling began in the 1890s.”
The board's two-year Desert Sun newspaper-invoked investigation dismissed the Smith invocation, finding it was “not valid for Nestle’s current appropriative diversion and use of water from the San Bernardino National Forest.”
“While Nestle may be able to claim a valid basis of right to some water in Strawberry Canyon,” NPR cited the report as stating, “a significant portion of the water currently diverted by Nestle appears to be diverted without a valid basis of right.”
The board concluded that Nestle can only legally claim about 8.5m gallons annually, significantly less than the 62m gallons it has been collecting annually from 1947 to 2015.
The board released a letter recommending the company “cease any unauthorized diversions,” submit a compliance plan and secure a permit. Nestle has 60 days to submit a compliance plan and 90 days to submit an investigation and monitoring plan.
Nestle responded to the water board's findings, stating it was pleased that its claim to “a significant amount of the water in Strawberry Canyon” has been vindicated.
“We look forward to cooperating with the SWRCB during the review process and to providing the necessary documents to supplement the SWRCB’s report, including producing information requested from over a century ago, to the extent that it is available,” the statement said.
California law does not prohibit private companies from bottling the state’s water.
In August, a lawsuit was brought against Nestle claiming that the company's Poland Spring Water brand was misleading American consumers into paying premium prices for ordinary groundwater disguised as spring water.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules states that "well water" could not be defined as spring water.