Who Owns the Water?

This week, CBS Los Angeles aired a segment about Nestlé’s Arrowhead water bottling operation in the San Bernardino National Forest after a recent roadside protest by local activists brought the issue back to the media’s attention. Unfortunately, the network’s representation of this story was heavily skewed in Nestlé’s favor and failed to represent these activists or interview them for the report.

Photo: Dave Ficke

In the segment, CBS reporter Mireya Villareal interviewed Nestlé’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Nelson Switzer, who has been running a lot of damage control lately. In March, Switzer contributed an op-ed column to local Southern California newspapers to ensure us all that Nestlé is a good environmental steward and a friend of the communities living closest to Nestlé’s water grab. (You can see what I had to say about that here). In his latest interview, he imparted a new token of wisdom: “Water belongs to no one.”


By that logic, couldn’t we reasonably say that water then belongs to everyone? And if that water belongs to no one (or everyone), isn’t it pretty unethical to suck it out of public lands and sell it for billions of dollars in profit1? And wouldn’t we be within our right to stop Nestlé from taking that water since it doesn’t belong to them? Let me guess, Nelson, that’s not what you meant.

To recap, since Nestlé’s permit to operate in the San Bernardino National Forest expired in 1988, Nestlé has removed over 1.9 billion gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest for a small annual fee. According to the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Nestlé has pumped as much as 162 million gallons of water a year from Strawberry Creek without the government’s review of the environmental impacts caused by this loss. The Story of Stuff Project sued the Forest Service to terminate Nestlé’s unpermitted operation at Strawberry Creek, and we are currently working toward a settlement of that lawsuit.

Finally, we’d like to give a shout out to Goodwins Market in Crestline, California, for recently deciding that they’ve had enough and stopped stocking Arrowhead water. Way to go! 🙌

(Photo: Jimi Sunderland)


1. $7.8 billion sales in 2016 alone: Source

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