We Went to Court Over Nestlé’s Actions on Public Land in California

On Monday morning, June 13, 2016, I represented the Story of Stuff Project and our Community at a hearing in our case against the Forest Service over Nestlé’s illegal removal of millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California. We’ve asked the court to turn off the spigot on Nestlé, which has been taking the water without a valid permit. I was joined by an enthusiastic group of about two dozen local supporters who’ve been leading the way in the fight against Nestlé, and who showed up early on a Monday morning to help us pack the courtroom. Several members of the media were present as well.

At a press conference before we headed into the hearing together in Judge Bernal’s courtroom, I made three main points to those gathered, which I’d like to share with you now:

First, this is the public’s water – it belongs to every Californian and every American. It is an outrage that Nestlé has been allowed to take billions of gallons of water out of this public forest for the past 30 years, without a proper permit, without environmental review or even fair compensation to the people of the United States.

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Second, while we launched this suit to force the Forest Service to do the right thing, Nestlé is the real villain here. For the past year, we’ve looked closely at the company’s behavior around the country and from here to Oregon to Pennsylvania to Maine, they talk a great talk, but behave very differently when it comes to the environment and the public will. Just recently, in an amicus brief in this case, they challenged the government’s very right to regulate their take of water from public lands. We’re here to say, no more.

And finally, while this is an important moment, this fight won’t end today or even with this legal case. The Forest Service has already announced its intent to review Nestlé’s application for a new five-year permit. There will be numerous opportunities for the public to continue to make our voices heard as that process moves forward and our groups will certainly stick to it. There’s also an active state investigation into Nestlé’s claimed water right and we’re working with Courage Campaign and others to pressure retailers like Sprouts – which has a responsible sourcing policy – to remove Arrowhead Water from their shelves.

There wasn’t much drama in the courtroom this week – the judge quizzed both attorneys on points of law and precedent. He eventually ordered new briefs on case law relating to the Forest Service’s indefinite extension of Nestlé’s permit. We’ll submit that and keep our fingers crossed for a good outcome.

In the meantime, it’s critical now and going forward that we keep the pressure on. The Forest Service has to know that the public is its client, not Nestlé. And Nestlé needs to know that the public will be watching it very closely.

If you haven’t done so yet, you can contact the CEO of Nestlé Waters to share your support for public water protections here.

P.S. Please also consider donating to help us expand our fight against Nestlé and other water bottlers as we work to support strong public water rights everywhere.

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